Lively formality in the garden of Deborah Hornickel


If you admired the beautiful details of James David’s grand Rollingwood garden, which I had the privilege of visiting last spring, you may have wondered what a smaller, more economically built garden of his might look like. And I’m here to show you, thanks to James’s longtime friend, Deborah Hornickel, who kindly let me photograph her Bryker Woods garden last week.

Deborah’s garden is 24 years old, and she attributes to James “all of the credit for the design of my garden starting back in 1991.” I first visited her garden in 2006 and again in 2010 during the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tour, on which her garden will again be included this October.

From the street to the front porch, a double line of round and teardrop-shaped boxwood topiaries marches along a narrow limestone walk, giving formal structure and a strong leading line for the eye to follow. But the formal symmetry is subverted to the right and left thanks to towering sunflowers, layers of small trees (desert willow and pruned-up loropetalum), and a large, strappy yucca or nolina.


Halfway down the walk, a side path leads left through clipped boxwood to a bench hidden near the shrub-screened property line.


By the porch, pink crinums are finishing up while a dark-leaved canna offers a rich color echo.


Looking back along the front walk, the widely spaced topiaries lead your eye firmly but playfully to the street — and a neighbor’s perfectly positioned tree. Wouldn’t it be awesome if they put in a complementary garden at the base of that tree? (Sometimes one can only dream of gardening neighbors.)


Deborah’s porch is enticing, with a pair of narrow pots overflowing with silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) and a stainless steel bench displaying a collection of potted cacti and succulents. A green-black door contrasts with the pale celery green of the house.


Terracotta pots unify the collection.


More pots sit along the walk by the porch.


On the shady, east-facing porch, a mantel-like limestone table holds hurricane candles and a striking begonia.


A concrete walk runs along the front porch from the driveway, and Deborah has made a focal point at the end to terminate the view: a tall, terracotta pot filled with Jewels of Opar.


The driveway doubles as a path to the rear garden and offers a view of the porch across a plane of clipped boxwood.


Specimen plants are tucked in here and there, like this Texas dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) and variegated American agave.


It’s not often I get to say this, but I love the view between the side of the house and the pea-graveled driveway. A russet-and-green-leaved Japanese maple is color-echoed by oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) with faded blossoms. The detached garage, which functions as an open carport, looks to be painted the same charcoal-green as the front door.


Let’s stop to admire the Japanese maple and oakleaf hydrangea combo. The maple is underplanted with prostrate yew, also known as Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’), whose shiny, deep-green needles offer a pleasing contrast. I really need to plant this slow-growing, shade-loving, deer-resistant evergreen in my own garden.


Looking back toward the front garden


The long view down the driveway reveals a row of pruned-up ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress trees. Click through to my 2006 visit to Deborah’s garden for a view of these trees before they were pruned up. They are lovely trees, and although the lower limbs had to be pruned up to allow passage, the scaly trunks and blue-green needles overhead create a woodsy Colorado vibe. I like the mix of loose and clipped shrubs beneath them too.


To access the back garden, you pass through the carport/garage, which is also Deborah’s potting shed, and enter a comfortably furnished covered porch.


Deborah is very selective with regard to garden adornment. Each piece counts and is never crowded by another.


She likes a few quirky touches as well, like this skull planter.


The porch commands a view of the entire back garden: fire-pit patio, buffet table, and pond on the left; Bradford pear allee in the middle; and rectangular lawn on the right.


The patchwork-paver patio is Deborah’s latest addition. Jackson Broussard of Sprout and James David worked together on the patio design, Deborah told me.


It reminds me of Tait Moring’s patchwork path.


Four chairs cluster around a circular steel table. When the lid comes off, it doubles as a fire pit. The fire pit is Jackson’s design, and you can see more of his work in my post about a Rollingwood garden he designed.


A circular boxwood hedge once enclosed a stock-tank pond. But when it eventually corroded Deborah replaced it with a simple bird bath. Notice the strong line of clipped boxwood along the edge of the gravel patio. It “holds back” a shrub bed approximately 10 feet wide along the property line, which makes a buffering green wall around the garden’s living spaces.


A wider view


A limestone-slab table by the umbrella holds a couple of potted plants and a bowl of shells. Perhaps it gets put to use during parties.


Seashells and slag glass make a pretty combo.


Deborah’s back porch. I love her house colors. The window in the dark wall looks into the garage/potting shed.


A gravelly planting bed sits just off the porch, containing a crepe myrtle and an assortment of potted plants.


Echeverias in an oval pot resemble water lilies floating in a pond. The metal dachshund is a boot scraper.


The main hallway of the garden is an allee of Bradford pears espaliered on a rebar framework into a long tunnel. This axis is aligned with the back door of the house, creating a strong indoor-outdoor connection.


But before we walk down it, let’s look right to another seating area behind the garage. Wire panels atop steel poles make a sheltering trellis over the space. A frameless mirror mimics a window and reflects candlelight at night. A grill occupies the outer edge.


Candelabras hang over the table for nighttime enjoyment.


There are also lights — cafe-style string lights — running the length of the pear allee. A potted cardboard palm (Zamia furfuracea) on a stone plinth terminates the view.


Deborah says this beautiful plant (not actually a palm) requires protection from winter freezes. The grassy plants on either side, which have speckled, narrow leaves, may be Aspidistra minutiflora ‘Leopard’.


The right side of the garden is devoted to a cool, green lawn, anchored by a simple, chalky urn atop a cylindrical pedestal. Clipped boxwood lines this side as well, with a deep shrub border along the property line.


Looking left, you see a glimpse of the rebar structure that helped train the pears when they were young and supple. A blue bench is positioned in the shade for a view of a pond.


Looking back toward the house


This contemporary, poured-concrete pond was built as a replacement for the original stock-tank pond. The tall plant is Thalia dealbata.


I believe that’s ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo (Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’) behind it. A long steel pipe extends from the boxwood hedge to pour a recirculating stream of water into the pond…


…where water lilies bloom and colorful fish swim.


From the back you see how the pipe is supported.


I am smitten with this pond and the surrounding plants. There’s a sense of openness, but subtropical lushness too.


Deborah has been generous in sharing her garden with Austin over the years, putting it on tour many times. Of James David, her friend who’s helped her with the design for a quarter-century, Deborah says simply, “He is the most talented and creative mind I have ever known, and I am beyond fortunate to have had his assistance.”

My thanks to Deborah for sharing her gorgeous garden with me once again! If you’d like to see it too, it’ll be on tour through Garden Conservancy Open Days on October 17. But I do hope you’ll also save room on your tour schedule that day to see my own garden (very different from Deborah’s) and the other gardeners’ gardens on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour — yep, on the same day.

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

Art and design intrigue in the garden of Syd Teague


Once a month the Austin garden bloggers gather at one of our gardens to socialize, talk plants and design, and do a plant swap. Last Saturday we met up in Rock Rose/Jenny Stocker’s garden, which despite a recent hailstorm and torrential rains was absolutely beautiful. But we were treated to a two-for-one this time because Jenny had arranged for us to visit her neighbor Syd Teague’s inspiring garden.


Located in the Barton Creek neighborhood just southwest of downtown, Syd’s garden stands out with eclectic, art-filled personality, a diverse plant palette, and a gardener’s garden vibe — the best kind of garden to explore. Syd is well traveled, and her art and decor reflect the places she’s been. Starting at the front porch, a fierce, you-shall-not-pass samurai sculpture guards an Indonesian-style bench with a Western-style leather pillow. No matchy-matchy decor here. It’s delightfully eclectic.


The front door gives you a taste of Morocco, with a filigree hanging lantern and a carved door surround with shutter-like outer doors. The sign on the door says Come In.


Walking around the side of the house, I stopped to admire an imposing, dark-stained gate and color-matched chocolate mimosa (Albizia julibrissin). I had no idea this would grow here.


Stone walls display art of all kinds, like this terracotta face…


…and this laser-cut metal sculpture. And check out the lively pattern of stone blocks in the wall.


Along a soft-terracotta wall, a metal trellis holds potted cacti in terracotta pots.


Like many of us living in Flash Flood Alley (central Texas’s nickname), Syd has had her share of runoff and drainage problems. To handle heavy downpours and water flowing in from uphill neighbors, a generously proportioned dry stream leads around the side of the house and into the back garden.


Stone bridges cross the rocky streambed at various points, and pathways venture into a sunny garden of flowering perennials, roses, canna, native daisies, and more, with agaves and yuccas adding spiky, architecture.


A curving row of ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave (A. ovatifolia) catches your eye at the edge of an extended gravel wash along the dry stream. Roses and canna add stoplight-red color at left and right, with ‘Peter’s Purple’ bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) in the foreground.


Another view from the back terrace shows how the agaves act as a focal point. Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) blooms in the foreground amid grassy bicolor iris (Dietes bicolor).


Looking back along the path, I see that Syd likes red as much as I do. A hot combo of coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), dwarf crepe myrtle, and barberry catches your eye on the right.


Here’s our group a little ahead of me, with Caroline of The Shovel-Ready Garden giving me a big smile.


Syd, in the turquoise shirt, was clearly leading a great tour that was capturing everyone’s attention. I wish I could have heard everything she was saying, but I was exploring at a snail’s pace. A delighted snail.


Aha — another blogger off on her own, Lori of The Gardener of Good and Evil


Another view of the bicolor iris and agaves


A sago palm in a dark pot makes a focal point…


…that draws you along a path from the back terrace into the garden.


A grilling station shaded by an arbor is on the right. Pines are uncommon in Austin because of our alkaline soil, but this Italian stone pine (Pinus pine) looks happy.


I love this blue-themed cactus planter. Beautiful arrangements like these are placed throughout the garden. This may be a Rick Van Dyke pot.


Syd uses multiples for greater effect, like these twin Queen Victoria agaves in cobalt pots…


…five Talavera frogs climbing a wall…


…and an impressive collection of cactus in terracotta pots topped with M&M-like colorful glass beads.


I like the shadow play of this fan-shaped arbor over a patio tucked between the rear of the house and a privacy-giving stone wall along the property line.


More pretty pots adorn the porch.


A big bunny ears cactus (Opuntia microdasys)


On the far side of the garden, lush perennials give way to a desert garden filled with a spiky assortment of agave, yucca, sotol, and barrel cactus. Jenny mentioned that Syd is from Arizona, and it looks like she’s imported a little bit of Arizona to Austin.


These dry-loving plants are planted on rocky berms for drainage. A wide flagstone path winds its way through the long, sunny garden toward the back of the lot. One of the agaves is flowering dramatically, with a bloom spike about 15 feet tall.


Columnar Argentine saguaro (Trichocereus terscheckii) is not common in Austin, but you see it from time to time. It’s such a striking plant.


Syd knows how to create enticing views no matter what kind of plants she’s growing.


Metal cacti, coyotes, and other desert creatures appear throughout the dry garden. I like how this wavy-leaved prickly pear is leaning on the metal saguaro like an old friend.


Looking back down the path toward the house, I spot Wendy of The Rabid Gardener, our group’s newest member. It was so nice to meet her in person.


This prickly pear is more than 6 feet tall and about 8 feet wide — a big boy!


As you leave the dry garden, there’s one last desert-style container to send you off.


Squid agave, prickly pear, and Agave lophantha — very nice, even with a little speckling on the lophantha’s leaves from the recent hailstorm.


The path leads up into a woodsy shade garden that’s green and serene with shrubs and groundcovers. A flowering yucca leans over the path.


A colorful surprise awaits as you leave the shade garden: an orange and blue fiesta of pots, a frilly bench, and even a birdhouse.


Here’s a fun focal-point idea: a painted stucco-wall backdrop to a pot in a contrasting color. A sago palm or dioon makes an elegant effect in a vase-like cobalt pot, and it really pops against the freestanding orange wall.


Now we’re facing the back of the house, near where we entered the back garden. The dry stream, as you can see, gets very broad here. It must carry a lot of water. I bet it saw some action last week, during the Memorial Day flooding that hit Austin. Crepe myrtles and bicolor iris are planted in a conga line along the streambed.


Another gravel wash sits just upslope from the dry stream. Perhaps it captures water flowing down the hill? Notice that this very large garden contains no lawn — at all. There’s also no swimming pool or other water-intensive feature. Just a beautifully designed garden and smart drainage solutions.


It was a treat to visit Syd’s garden. My thanks to her for giving us a tour, and to Jenny for arranging the visit!

To see Jenny’s post about Syd’s garden last summer, click here.

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

Farewell visit to James David’s Austin garden, part 2


A grand limestone staircase bisected by a rill leads from the back of the house to a large pond in the lower garden.

Yesterday I showed you around the upper level of James David’s magnificent garden, which I visited in late March and which is currently for sale as the owners prepare to relocate to Santa Fe. Today let’s take the paths that lead down into the ravine behind the house and back up to the detached studio.


Behind the house a large cistern collects rainwater from the roof and seems to spill surplus water into a stone trough. In actuality, I think this must be an illusion because otherwise the water would soon run dry — even though our current rainy spring might suggest otherwise. I’d guess the rainwater is actually stored for use on Gary’s vegetable garden, visible in the background. This running faucet must be plumbed via a hidden pipe, creating the illusion that the cistern is the source of a long water passage through the back garden.


The water reappears a few steps below, spilling from a hidden stone channel into a small, stone-edged pool.


A wider view shows glossy holly ferns (Cyrtomium falcatum) doing a good air plant impression by sprouting from gaps in the wall.


A collection of fossils and pretty stones adorns a corner of the wall.


From the pool, water flows below ground into a simple metal pipe, which spills into a stone trough that’s been repaired with board-formed concrete. A second, smaller trough accepts an overflow stream. These troughs, with their musical splashing, sit next to the dining patio shown yesterday.


Underground the water goes again, and then it reappears at the top of the most dramatic feature of the garden: a grand limestone staircase bisected by a rill that runs a trickle of water all the way to the rectangular pond at the bottom of the stair. Behind the pond, an off-center stone stair leads up to a lap pool. Another path leads to a large greenhouse.


Here’s the view from behind the pond, looking back at the grand staircase and the house. ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon hollies once lined each side of the stair, creating a vertical screen, but these days it’s edged with boxwood.


Detouring to the right, let’s follow a path that leads up the side of the garden, past a low retaining wall beautifully made of various materials, including urbanite (broken concrete) on top.


Variegated agaves behind the wall


And a chicken coop!


Turning around, let’s head back down to the lower garden. Ahead is the large pond, and beyond that are pollarded Mexican sycamores.


Hardscape in this garden is masterfully crafted and enticing. You want to explore every curving stair, cross every bridge, investigate every long path framed by arbors and shrubs. But there’s also an element of danger to many of the walks, which universally lack handrails. They imply, you will be mindful of where you put your feet. I find it delightfully adventurous. But you definitely don’t want to get so distracted by the plants or the views that you fall backwards off a wall.


Now we’ve found the swimming pool, which sits well above the pond. Flowering shrubs and trees screen one side…


…while the other is open and offers a lovely view of the pond garden.


I was smitten by this flowering tree at the end of the pool: jack tree (Sinojackia xylocarpa), which James said he got from Forestfarm online nursery. They don’t seem to have it in stock now, but I see that it’s also grown by Texas grower Greenleaf.


The flowers dangle like white parachutes, reminiscent of those on white potato vine.


Stone stairs by the greenhouse are used to display potted agaves and other succulents.


Beautiful, but mind your ankles.


They are such camera hogs. They know they look good from every angle.


Potted cacti line a long limestone shelf along the front of the greenhouse.


A few tropicals, like this clivia, add colorful flowers to the mix.


Looking back toward the house you see the grand staircase and, closer, a wooden bridge that crosses a dry stream and wet-weather garden. The Mexican sycamores (Platanus mexicana) are planted in a grid, their pollarded canopies creating an umbrella effect.


Crossing the bridge, which is lined on one side with more potted plants, you get another view of the sycamores and their white and green mottled trunks.


A stone stair by the greenhouse descends to the dry creek.


I’m sure the dry creek has seen a lot of action this spring.


On the left, another view of the pond


Pulling back a little, you can appreciate the lushness of the garden, with purple flowers of Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora) in the foreground. Now imagine that we’ve crossed the wooden bridge again, walked behind the greenhouse, and followed a decomposed-granite path that leads to the right…


…and to the newest section of the garden: a semi-wild meadow garden behind the award-winning concrete studio. A ruler-straight path leads the eye and foot between stone pedestals topped with cornucopia-like urns, across a metal bridge, and up some steps to a concrete wall that supports a contemporary pond (shown below). Notice the concrete balcony jutting out from the topmost window? I’ll share a picture from that vantage point in a moment.


A topiaried oak. James told me he’s not afraid to try topiary on any kind of plant.


Looking back, I find this view through the columns very romantic.


I liked this grassy, white-flowered plant, whose fleshy leaves reminded me of bulbine, but I can’t remember the name. Update: It’s St. Bernard’s lily (Anthericum liliago). Thanks, Diana, for the ID!


Native red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) was blooming too.


As you climb the stairs up to the studio, you come to an asymmetrical, concrete-edged pond. Here’s an overhead view from the studio balcony. What looks like a metal bridge from this angle…


…is actually a gabion wall that supports a metal pipe spilling water into the pond. A dry garden planted with Argentine saguaro and other xeric plants offers a contrast between wet and dry.


Koi live in the pond and came running swimming when Gary pulled out the fish food.


The view across the gabion wall and pond to the cornucopia urns and meadow garden


To the left of the pond, the dry garden continues, with Yucca rostrata and a pruned-up Chinese photinia (Photinia serrulata), if I recall correctly. James is a big fan of this photinia, though not of the overused red-tip variety.


More steps lead up to the studio. This is the view from the walk connecting studio and house.


The studio


A porch at the studio door holds a trio of potted plants. I like the circle motif of the tabletops and rear pot.


Ice plant in vivid bloom


James and Gary’s dog Alice made herself comfortable on the porch’s wooden bench.


I somehow neglected to take a photo of James while he was showing me around. But I’m grateful to him and to Gary for inviting me into their beautiful home and garden again. Visiting their garden has always been the highlight of the Open Days tour, and I’ll miss it. But who knows — maybe it’ll be on tour again one day with new owners at the helm. I hope so, and I’m sure James and Gary do too. Until then, I wish them bon voyage and happy garden-making in their new home.

For a look back at part 1 of my garden visit, click here.

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