Festive spring at Lucinda Hutson’s purple cottage

Many times over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Lucinda Hutson‘s purple cottage in the Rosedale neighborhood of central Austin. It’s always a riot of flowers and festive decor. On Tuesday I stopped by to visit again and am so glad I did. Butter-yellow blossoms of Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa) were mingling with tall snapdragons in a rainbow of colors in her cottage-style front garden.

Snappy snapdragons

Here’s the street view of her gothic-style purple “casita,” as she calls it, and the tall, shapely ginkgo tree she planted 30 years ago — a rarity in Austin.

Red bloom spikes of red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) are coming up.

A large prickly pear (Opuntia ‘Old Mexico’) is showing its love with a heart-shaped pad.

More Jerusalem sage

Datura (D. wrightii) blossoms were furled, waiting to open until dusk.

Here’s one that had bloomed last night, looking a bit like a deflated balloon — or, from this angle, a pinwheel.

Lucinda even has datura on a pretty mosaic-tile paver.

Pastel snapdragons stand tall in a purple pot by the front porch.

Her colorful porch is decorated with imagery from Mexico and the Desert Southwest, a tribute to her El Paso upbringing.

We were both pleased to spot a monarch caterpillar munching on milkweed, but it was nearly out of plant to nosh on. I hope it’s ready to pupate.

Heading toward her back gate, I stopped to admire her rambling nasturtiums. This is an annual that always tempts me, but I never get around to growing it.

It makes a perfect combo with red-stemmed chard growing in a pot.

Now let’s head into the back garden, under the arbor abloom with ‘Don Juan’ roses. Lucinda’s yard is pretty small, and she’s turned the rear half of her driveway into a patio garden, with the arbor marking its entrance.

A carved stone fish sits atop a 6-foot stone wall that shields her back garden from view. It hints at what’s to come.

A mermaid grotto on the other side! Mermaids and shells adorn a tiny pond, where fig ivy and ferns green up the limestone wall and trickling water mutes the noise of passing cars.

To the right, against a wooden fence painted turquoise, another mermaid holds court under an arbor decorated with seashells and strands of colored capiz shells. In a planter at her feet grow “under-the-sea” plants like aloes, echeveria, sedum, and snake plant.

It creates a delightful seaside mood in the front half of her former driveway, along with patio seating for two.

A greenhouse and vine-covered arbor occupy the middle of the old driveway, where Lucinda has hung an old door panel decorated with tin milagros (Mexican folk charms). This used to be Lucinda’s back door, but the lower half rotted. When she installed a new door, she cut the bottom off this one and turned it into garden art.

As you pass through the middle arbor, this comes into view: an old garage painted purple, with a colorful tile mosaic along the eaves. A raised bed filled with vegetables and annual flowers occupies the sunny middle.

Potted marigolds, pelargoniums, and other annuals add even more punch to the scene.

Lucinda always takes the time to add pretty touches, like this basket stuffed with potted annuals.

There are several Virgins of Guadalupe in this section.

I believe Lucinda calls this folk-art version Our Lady of the Bathtub.

And another, paired with ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe’ rose, which smells so sweet.

Another view of the raised vegetable-and-flower bed, with the greenhouse behind it.

Colorful pillows dress up a cedar-branch bench.

And St. Francis presides over a pot of red begonias.

This adorable cat plate reminds Lucinda of a beloved former pet, Tita.

Chard pairs with red pelargoniums here.

Red poppies pop against the purple garage.

The seedheads look pretty too.

Lucinda’s back deck is party central, with two tables covered in Mexican oilcloth set up as a buffet against the purple wall of her garage.

Comfortable patio seating under a purple umbrella says, “Make yourself at home.”

A colorful carved-wood fish planter

Lucinda told me she’d just planted up this cactus-themed strawberry pot — with succulents, of course. Perfect!

In a decorative cabinet on the wall, a wren had built a nest and sat tight as Lucinda pointed her out to me. Sweet little bird.

The back of the purple garage is painted turquoise, and Lucinda’s Tequila Cantina is always set up and ready for a party.

Metal mariachis never tire of playing, and a tequila bottle tree mulched with corks playfully illustrates Lucinda’s fascination with the agave liquor.

Drinking companions

A sun porch at the back of her house has mosaic-tiled stairs that lead up to the kitchen. Lucinda calls it her “stairway to heaven,” and considering the goodies she whips up in her kitchen, it really is. Here’s Sancho, her cat, coming to greet us.

A closer look at the tilework, with little milagros, fishes, and faces mixed in.

Back out front, bees were busy among the purple blossoms of ‘Amistad’ salvia.

Thanks, Lucinda, for sharing your colorful home and garden with me again! Readers, if you’d like to see more of Lucinda’s garden, here are my other posts about it:

Christmas in Mexico at Lucinda Hutson’s home and garden, December 2015
Lucinda Hutson’s purple cottage, cantina garden, and Viva Tequila!, April 2013
Lucinda Hutson’s Easter-egg colorful garden, April 2012
Enchanted evening in Lucinda Hutson’s cantina garden, April 2011
El Jardin Encantador: Lucinda Hutson’s garden, October 2009
Lucinda Hutson’s enchanting garden, April 2008

I welcome your comments. If you’re reading this in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment link at the end of each post.

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Central Texans, don’t forget the San Antonio Watersaver Landscape Tour is this Saturday, April 9, from 9 am to 3 pm. Reserve your shuttle time for this FREE walking tour of 6 water-saving gardens in the Inverness neighborhood.

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

I’m on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Palms and dinosaurs at McKee Botanical Garden

Two weeks ago, in mid-March, the family and I drove to Orlando for spring break. Before heading home, we stopped in Vero Beach, Florida, for a day at the shore and to visit McKee Botanical Garden. Yes, those are dinosaurs in the garden. Roar of the Dinosaur, featuring the life-sized creations of Guy Darrough, are displayed throughout the garden through May 1. Fun for the kids, no doubt, but I found them distracting. Still, I’d just enjoyed Orlando’s theme parks, so why not?

Happily, there’s plenty to see other than dinosaurs. This small public garden is a resurrected fragment of an 80-acre garden park that attracted droves of tourists from the 1930s through the 1960s. Operated by Waldo Sexton, an eccentric builder and nurseryman, and Arthur McKee, a Cleveland industrialist, McKee Jungle Gardens was famous for a “cathedral” of 300 royal palms, an extensive orchid collection, waterlilies, monkeys, and an alligator, Ole Mac. (The dinosaurs would likely have fit right in.) Disney World stole away its tourism base, however, and the garden was closed in 1976. Developers tore out most of the garden to build condos and a golf course.

Today, thanks to the efforts of locals and a land trust, 18 acres of the garden have been restored, showcasing palms, bromeliads, waterlilies, and other native subtropical and tropical plants.

The place does look a bit Jurassic, doesn’t it?

Richly colored bromeliads glowed in the sunlight during our late-morning visit. In the background, Spanish moss hangs from a tall, spreading oak.

A fallen tree trunk, arched at the edge of a pond, hosted an artful display of bromeliads and other plants.

Powdery blue culms of a beautiful Bambusa chungi

The silky plumes of this tall, grass-like plant caught my eye as well. Anyone know what it is? It’s tiger grass (Thysanolaena maxima). Thanks, Max!

Or this long-stemmed cluster of pink flowers — some sort of begonia?

Another temporary exhibit on display in the garden is a large-scale “stickwork” by artist Patrick Dougherty. Dubbed The Royals and sited amid the remaining royal palms, it’s like an oversized playhouse made of pliable willow branches, many of which showed signs of green-leaved regrowth. Dougherty’s fantastical stick structures last only until weather and time bring them down.

One of Waldo Sexton’s creations is The Hall of Giants, a 2-story wooden clubhouse that resembles something the Swiss Family Robinson would have constructed. A ruin after 20 years of abandonment when the garden shut down, it’s been restored to man-cave glory thanks to a grant from Florida’s Division of Historic Resources.

Sexton’s old bell collection is displayed along the porch eaves.

Inside it’s all elk-lodge timbers and iron lanterns. The crowning feature is a gleaming, 38-foot banquet table made from a single slab of Philippine mahogany. What a tree it must have come from!

Just outside, Sexton’s enormous Spanish Kitchen has also been restored, with room to grill 100 steaks at a time, according to garden lore. Those guys must have had some kind of parties here back in the day. Today the hall and outdoor kitchen are rented out for weddings and other events.

McKee Garden is small enough to see in about an hour, and even though I’m not especially into tropical plants, I enjoyed our visit.

It gave me a sense of Florida’s history, the costs of its rapid development, and the commitment of today’s residents to restoring some of what was lost.

I welcome your comments. If you’re reading this in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment link at the end of each post.

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

TODAY AT NOON: Join me for Coffee with the Author at noon, April 6, at Holy Grounds
KUT’s Jennifer Stayton will interview me about water-saving gardening and host a Q&A with the audience — which I hope will include YOU. Afterward I’ll sign copies of The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!. I hope to see you there for this intimate, lunchtime event. Holy Grounds coffee shop is located in downtown Austin in the main building of St. David’s Episcopal Church at 301 East 8th Street. You can park in the surface lot in front of St. David’s main doors.

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

I’m on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Mischief managed: Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Orlando blooms

Diagon Alley shops and the escaping Gringotts dragon, which belches fire periodically with a coughing roar and a furnace-blast of heat you can feel in the street below

Last week for spring break, we packed up the car, dropped off the dog at Grandma’s, and set off on a two-day road trip from Austin to Orlando, Florida, following the Gulf Coast from Houston through flooded-out southern Louisiana (which turned one 10-hour driving day into 15 hours), Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle. Our goal? To visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter before both our kids are entirely grown — although, let’s face it, I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter books and probably would have gone anyway.

Hogwarts Castle and the family

After reading about it, my expectations had risen to the height of Hogwarts’ Astronomy Tower. Happily, the park surpassed them, providing an experience that felt like stepping into the darkly fanciful world created by author J.K. Rowling.

“Snow”-covered roofs despite 80-degree temperatures in the village of Hogsmeade

The Harry Potter stuff is spread across two adjacent parks at Universal Studios (ensuring you buy tickets for both and spend two days there; clever marketing people), and includes Diagon Alley (pictured at the top of this post) and Hogsmeade, above. A flagship virtual-reality ride anchors each section — and they are absolutely incredible — but the real attraction for fans is immersing oneself in this imaginary world: strolling the streets…

At Ollivander’s Wand Shop, the wand chooses the wizard in an interactive moment between a young visitor and an actor playing the wand maker.

…exploring the magical shops and restaurants…

Butterbeer comes “regular” or frozen. We tried both.

…and sampling wizard wares like butterbeer, pumpkin juice, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, and more.

We resisted the urge to spend our gold on souvenirs and merely tried on wizard robes for silly fun…

…and hats, of course.

Window shopping at Honeydukes sweet shop

Sweetness with a Halloween edge

Inside you can buy the candy from the Harry Potter books, like Chocolate Frogs, Fizzing Whizzbees, exploding bonbons, and the like.

In Gringotts Bank, which is the entry to the Escape from Gringotts ride, animatronic goblin clerks are eerily lifelike.

I wish I’d taken more photos of the ride lead-ins, which are wonderfully immersive, à la Disney World. But I was too busy having fun. If you’re a fan, all I can say is, go see it for yourself. But not in summer! I don’t know how anyone can enjoy a theme park when it’s 95F and clogged with sweaty, irritable tourists. Cooler weather and less-busy days are essential to enjoyment, at least for me. Oh, and definitely get Universal Express Unlimited Passes. They’re well worth the money to avoid long lines throughout the parks, although currently they’re not usable for the main Harry Potter rides, so do those first thing on early admission days or late in the day just before closing.

Plant lovers will appreciate how the park is landscaped as well, with an exacting attention to detail in choosing plants to suit each themed area. For example, a northern European vibe is evoked around Hogwarts with tall fir trees (or maybe cypresses?). I don’t know how Universal managed to pull this off in a near-tropical climate, but it looked great.

Turn a corner, and you’re in Jurassic World, where palm trees, sago palms, and other ancient-looking plants set the mood. Dinosaurs help too, of course.

I expected to see boring sweeps of “annual color.” Instead, tapestries of shrubs, perennials, and trees created beautiful views and helped screen different areas of the parks.

Sorry if my title misled any Orlando Bloom fans. But I did see lots of blooms in Orlando.

During our mid-March visit, trumpet trees (Tabebuia spp.) were glorious in full bloom. Pink trumpet tree (Tabebuia heterophylla) was most common and seemed especially apt in the crazy-colorful Dr. Seuss section of the park.

Those pink, trumpet-shaped flowers against a cobalt sky were amazing.

And the yellow ones didn’t even look real.

Yellow trumpet tree (Tabebuia chrysotricha) — gorgeous!


Leaving the surreal park experience behind us, we spent one day in Vero Beach, about an hour and a half southeast of Orlando. Of course I also snuck in a garden visit, to McKee Botanical Garden, which I’ll share with you soon. Update: Here’s my post about our visit to McKee Garden.


Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Come meet me at Zilker Garden Festival, Austin, TX, April 2 & 3
Get your gardening mojo on at Zilker Garden Festival! I’ll be at the brand-new Author Booth on both days between 10 am and 2 pm (near the main building entrance), and I’ll have copies of The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! for purchase ($20 each), if you’d like a signed copy for yourself or for a gift. Zilker Garden Festival offers all-day entertainment, vendor shopping, plant sales, demonstrations, live music, a beer garden and food vendors, children’s activities, a garden train, a flower show, and a docent-led tour of lovely Zilker Botanical Garden. Don’t miss it!

Do you review? Have you read The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

Read an excerpt from The Water-Saving Garden at Garden Design: “Create the Illusion of Water with Plants: How to use grasses, trees, groundcovers and other plants to evoke water in a dry garden.” Check it out, and let me know if you try any of these creative design ideas.

I’m on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.