My photo of Pavlat garden in Austin Home


Austin Home‘s design issue (Fall 2011) lists 22 hot trends, and one of them is growing agaves as a drought-surviving plant. In that vein, they also ran an article on local succulent and cactus guru Jeff Pavlat, and they published one of my photos of his garden. Jeff’s garden is surely coping with the drought and heat better than most, thanks to his water-thrifty—and otherworldly beautiful—plant choices.


The Austin Home article is pretty brief and prone to exaggeration (the subtitle claims his garden “can go years without water”—um, I doubt that and am chalking it up to a non-gardener writer or editor), but it’s a nice nod to Jeff’s talent in showcasing the beauty of cactus, agave, yucca, and other spiky plants. If you’d like more, visit my two posts about Jeff’s garden:

Going Vertical: Jeff Pavlat’s Hillside Garden

Succulent extravaganza: More of Jeff Pavlat’s garden

Update 9/20/11: I contacted Jeff about his watering regimen, and he confirms that he does water in dry summers like this one, although he can go several weeks between waterings: “I watered my garden [this summer] only once every 3 weeks (sometimes I let it go 4). I do water very heavily when I water. It takes 4 to 6 hours to hand water everything. My greenhouse gets watered every week with a few plants getting watered twice.”

All material © 2006-2011 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

10 Responses

  1. Shirley Fox says:

    Congratulations on getting another of your beautiful photos published.

    The idea of adding spiky plants is really catching on. My neighbor who already has a no lawn front yard mentioned this morning that she wants to go even more xeric since they lost many plants this summer too.

    I think a lot of people will be thinking along those lines in the future. —Pam

  2. Jenny says:

    It’s a beautiful photo and there is no doubt that Jeff’s garden is a testimony to fine design and planting. He really knows what he is doing when it comes to cactus and succulents. I wouldn’t want to take away from his success with a beautiful landscape. But I agree with you. There is no way that even the hardiest of plants survives without water. I have the agaves to prove it. In an area outside my walls you should see the miserable A. americana and weberii and lots of other natives that have not seen a drop in for ever. They will never recover. Also I have a prostrate rosemary that is just crisp. Even Lindheimer senna that is stunted and shriveled. I for one would be happy to have the desert look but we don’t truly have the climate for it. Only occasionally. I know the nurseries are going to be tempting people to put in agaves and cactus and I just hope they know what they are doing. They already sell things that are marginal for our climate. Will they be prepared to go out and cover and put heaters under their cactus when very low temperatures threaten. Wow! Sorry for the ranting. Where did that come from? You know how much I love the desert look. I look forward to reading the article.

    You make an excellent point, Jenny, and it’s worth being passionate about. Jeff’s garden is gorgeous and inspiring and very drought-tolerant—but he’d be the first to tell you that it is still a garden that requires occasional water (see my update at the end of the post) and, as he’s told me in person, special care for a number of plants when freezes threaten. He goes to great lengths in the winter to protect the tender plants in his garden. But a non-gardener reading this brief, simplified article would never know it. This is why it’s so important for new gardeners to do research or hire a designer or garden coach before going crazy at the nursery. —Pam

  3. Beautiful photo…Jeff’s garden is one that I hope I will be able to see when we visit Austin (someday). I also love Jenny’s rant. So true…we face a similar (sort of) situation up here when folks get all excited about low water plants they also have to keep in mind that while the months of July, August and September are dry (we got rain over the weekend…first measurable rain since mid July) the rest of the year is not. Plants have to be chosen carefully!

    They do! Like Jenny, I am certain that many Austinites will be tempted to try desert plants after this summer, and in fact many of them do very well here…with proper drainage and a sunny exposure. But many others will not survive our occasional hard freezes, as many of us learned the hard way last winter. —Pam

  4. Great pic and agreed on the above comments. Balance is in order…your record low is -2 to -5F, and let me add that records *do* happen again. Consider the range of weather within one’s climate, then select species that are tested in similar ranges…not select based on seeing them in a totally different climate (Phoenix), or because they are trendy (fads bad). Had a guy in west TX once laugh at me for caring about weather – he lost much this winter…I laughed, too!

    It can be fun for a plant person to push his growing zone and take calculated risks, but most homeowners don’t want to lose their investment in their landscaping. This is why it’s important to do research or hire someone who knows plants. And even then you can have an extreme year like 2011 (very cold last winter, extremely hot and dry this summer) and see established hardy plants die. Gardening is definitely not for sissies. —Pam

  5. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Congrats on your photo making the mag Pam. Your photographic talents are sure to be appreciated by everyone. Love this guy’s garden. It is other worldly. It also goes to show that every garden needs to be tended even if some aren’t tended as closely as others.

    Jeff’s garden is a wonderland for anyone who appreciates succulents and cactus—and I know you are one of them, Lisa. —Pam

  6. Jeanette says:

    Dear Pam,
    Congratulations on your photo in the article.
    I was working on a Xeriscape list yesterday after visiting the Discovery Gardens in Rockwall (east of Dallas). I wanted to see what survived the summer. I grew up in Michigan surrounded by water and my horticulture degree is from MSU so it has been a challenge for me to “Xeri-up”. A lot of my blog is more for my benefit than anyone else.
    That would be a good title for a post, but should it be “Xeri-Up” or “Xeri-Down?”
    Jeanette

    Definitely Xeri-Up, Jeanette! It has a more positive connotation and plays off the slang phrase “man up,” for “toughen up.” We have to be tough to garden here in Texas, don’t we? Have fun planning your xeriscape garden! —Pam

  7. Congratulations! Well deserved.
    This garden was THE one I wanted to see on the Master Gardeners tour this spring….then, I had to go and get pneumonia. Maybe a chance will open up again sometime.
    I agree with the comments above. We’ve been to both extremes with weather, this past year.
    Planting desert plants will surely save on water. But, you have to be willing to put in the work of covering cold tender plants…or losing them. And, all plants need some water.
    You gotta know the territory. And, sometimes even then, things don’t work out.
    You’re right….gardening is not for sissies.
    Stay safe…

    I’m sorry you missed seeing Jeff’s garden, Linda, but pneumonia’s nothing to mess around with! I’m sure you’ll have another chance one day. With the drought predicted to continue, Jeff will find his garden in high demand among Austinites looking for xeric inspiration. —Pam

  8. Congrats on having your photo chosen! That’s quite an honor!

    Thanks, Cathy. I was happy they could use it, and happy to sell them usage rights. ;-) —Pam

  9. Congratulations Pam – though not a total surprise. Your photos are SO gorgeous it’s about time they’re getting published!

    Aw, thanks, Rebecca. I get a few published here and there. —Pam

  10. Donna says:

    First congratulations, Pam. They made a wonderful choice in using your image. After reading Jenny’s comment, I can really appreciate the weather we had, even though the hot, dry July was not very ordinary for us. Just to think agave would suffer when they are so accustomed to the warm climates. Mine spent the summer outside and it is getting time to bring them back inside. As for the cactus, I did not realize your climate is not always agreeable for them, even though I realize your area is not desert. I just thought they were hardy there. And all plants need water. It is such a shame how many trees will not recover from this past season. Glad not to be part of a grower’s nursery in Austin.

    Hi, Donna. We do have native cacti and agave that do very well here. But many more are sold in nurseries that are not cold-hardy for our region. In addition, we’re seeing that even heat- and drought-tolerant plants can suffer in a summer like we’ve just had. —Pam

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