Austin Open Days Tour 2012: Bonnell Drive Garden


My fourth stop on Saturday’s Open Days tour was the Bonnell Drive Garden in hilly West Austin, created by my friend Curt Arnette of Sitio Design. (For a post about Curt’s fascinating personal garden, click here.) The contemporary front garden complements the Texas-modern style of the wood-and-limestone house.


A dynamic, poured-concrete walk curves downward to the front door. Curt said the owner wanted the home to have universal design (generally thought of as being wheelchair accessible), so steps were eliminated in favor of a ramp-like path set in contrasting Texas Black gravel.


The driveway is constructed in a similar style, with “floating” concrete pads “grouted” by gravel, allowing air and water to reach the roots of trees growing close to the house. Chartreuse clouds of bamboo muhly (Muhlebergia dumosa) accent either side of the driveway.


Stepping back to the streetside garden, you see an explosion of fall-blooming Gulf muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), beautifully sunlit. Bamboo muhly glows on the left, desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) adds a spiky sphere on the right, and ‘Sharkskin’ agave and silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) fill in below.


Is there anything more lovely than this? Agave parryi var. truncata, a spiky rosette of an island in a sea of silver ponyfoot.


Well, this may be more lovely, with the addition of yellow-gold skeleton-leaf goldeneye (Viguiera stenoloba ).


Farther around the corner lot, where the property drops off steeply, exposing the caliche bedrock, tough agaves and native perennials find a home: Agave ferox ‘Green Goblet’ and skeleton-leaf goldeneye (or the native variety, plateau goldeneye).


Yuccas stand tall above groundcovering silver ponyfoot. I don’t know the name of the handsome shrub at left. Update: It’s Jatropha dioica, or leatherstem (thanks, Cheryl!), a South Texas native.


More daisies, spineless prickly pear, and silver ponyfoot—tough, drought-tolerant, and beautiful.


In the background stands a shoestring acacia (Acacia stenophylla), an Australian native.


Just look at all those ruby-red tunas—the fruit of the prickly pear. You can make jam or lemonade out of the tunas if you burn off the thorns and glochids (tiny, almost translucent thorns).


More sotol and Gulf muhly. The toothy sotol leaves catch the light so beautifully.


Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’


Between the streetside beds, which help to screen the house from view, and the home itself is a lawn that slopes down to a limestone-block wall with a row of vertical windows. At the house end of the wall, a gate opens onto this view…


…a reflecting pool with a carved stone fountain by Berthold Haas at one end.


A small lawn to the left leads to this view of the terraced back garden and a view of downtown Austin in the distance.


Aloe (‘Blue Elf’?) and giant hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera) edge the top of the terraced garden.


Monumental limestone blocks and treads create a stair that leads down to the lower part of the property, which is more naturalistic than the streetside garden in front.


More massive limestone blocks terrace the steep hillside, creating planting pockets. Curt told me that a lot of the native trees in the densely planted lower garden were already here, and he built the garden around them. This sunny opening offers a spot for agaves, palms, and roses as well.


The lower part of the garden is a sloping, narrow lawn that runs between beds of perennials and ornamental grasses, and leads to another stair that takes you up to the back patio. Philippine violet (Barleria cristata) was in glorious purple bloom alongside skeleton-leaf goldeneye, Gulf muhly grass, Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), and groundcovering pink knotweed (Polygonum capitatum).


Another view of the Gulf muhly, daisy, and Philippine violet. I really need to try the Philippine violet in my own garden. It’s stunning!


Steel risers and Texas Black gravel treads, edged with limestone blocks, make a contemporary stairway up through the hillside garden.


A queen butterfly was enjoying Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii) and butterfly vine (Mascagnia macroptera).


‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave (A. ovatifolia) and pink roses


Looking back, you see a haze of pink muhly and lovely fall perennial blooms.


A wider view down the steps to the garden


At the top of the steps, a limestone patio offers a shady spot to enjoy the garden. A deck off the second floor, above, shades this patio from the Texas sun, as does a cluster of live oaks.


Climbing up to the second level, you enjoy this view of Lake Austin between the trees.


A pool with a beautiful Lueders limestone terrace sits atop the slope at one corner of the house. ‘Sparkler’ sedge, one of my favorite shade plants, brightens up a dark corner under a Valencia orange tree.


And here’s the man who created all this for the lucky owners, Curt Arnette.

Up next: A tour of an art collectors’ garden on Rockcliff Road on Lake Austin. For a look back at Christine Ten Eyck’s water-conserving garden, click here.

All material © 2006-2012 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

18 Responses

  1. Scott Weber says:

    Wow…some of the most gorgeous shots of Muhly Grass I’ve ever seen, especially that first one, Pam…stunning!!! I’m surprised they have such a large area of lawn…isn’t that hard to keep up in Austin? Love the back garden…with the rough-hewn stone…such great texture.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the grass pics, Scott. I thought of you when I saw those billowing clouds! Some types of lawn can be hard to keep happy when we’re in drought and only allowed to water once a week (like now). Hopefully this is a tougher, more drought-tolerant mix. —Pam

  2. ChrisG says:

    Hey Pam – I also enjoyed this garden. Weren’t those philipine violets absolutely gorgeous! Also, those flowering muhly motivated me to go out and buy two for my backyard – in an area where I wanted to smooth a corner in the fence. Absolutely beautiful!
    Also loved the sea of silver pony foot and the agave… very nice touch.

    Yes, it was so nicely planted, and the steep slope was made into an asset. Don’t you love being able to see these wonderful gardens on tour? —Pam

  3. Lovely indeed Pam. I just don’t even know what to say. Thanks for the respite in my busy day.~~Dee

    It’s my pleasure, Dee. I’m happy to share these wonderful gardens that I feel fortunate to see on tour. —Pam

  4. ricki says:

    Lots of beautiful photos, but the one that really stands out for me is the reflecting pool…stellar!

    Thanks, Ricki. It was such a lovely feature in the garden, and I’m glad I was able to capture a sense of that. —Pam

  5. ChrisG says:

    I think the yellow flower is a Skeleton leaf goldeneye – not copper canyon daisy. My copper canyon daisy is blooming now, so could tell it wasn’t that.

    Chris, you’re right that I meant to write skeleton-leaf goldeneye. Good catch! But I seem to remember Curt telling me that it was some other sort of goldeneye. But thanks, I’ll make the correction. —Pam

  6. What a magical place, and your friend Curt Arnette is a God! The pretty shot of the whale’s tongue agave and roses remind me of your combo at your previous garden!!!! So pretty – I always loved that combo of yours. And speaking of combos, I am planting the agave parryi var. truncata and silver ponyfoot en masse in my redesign of the front beds! Seriously, I loved seeing this combo somewhere recent that is not in my head. ;)

    I miss my roses! I did love pairing a pretty rose with an agave or prickly pear. But my current garden just isn’t sunny enough in back and too deer-infested in front for that fun combo. But hey, have fun with YOUR fun combo of Agave parryi and silver ponyfoot! —Pam

  7. rjhyden says:

    Just beautiful and your photography is outstanding.

    Thanks, Randy. I’m glad you enjoyed the tour. —Pam

  8. ks says:

    What a splendid garden and that house is just to die for. I surely am enjoying this group of posts !

    I’m so glad! Two more gardens to come. —Pam

  9. Cheryl says:

    Beautiful photos, Pam! This was probably my favorite garden of the tour. I think the handsome shrub to the left of the yucca that you mentioned above is Leatherstem (Jatropha dioica). I heard someone ask Curt what it was, and he said it was a Jatropha, but I didn’t catch the complete botanical name.

    Great, thanks for the ID, Cheryl! —Pam

  10. I think I could be very happy here.

    Oh yeah. Me too, Loree. —Pam

  11. Les says:

    Mr. Arnette is an artist.

    I completely agree. His wife is wonderfully talented with interiors as well. —Pam

  12. Cynthia says:

    I’m sorry I missed this tour. This place looks stunning. I especially like the agave and ponyfoot! Say, the butterfly in your pic looks like a queen rather than a gulf fritillary – we get them a lot at my house on our mistflower.

    Oh, thanks for the correction on the butterfly ID, Cynthia! —Pam

  13. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    This garden not only has marvelous plants, paths and stairways but the views…wow.

    It really does. Glad you enjoyed it, Lisa. —Pam

  14. Mamaholt says:

    Tis good to be rich. That place is beyond gorgeous. Wish I could get a house tour too!

    That ponyfoot combo is one of my all-time faves.

    I can’t get over how much i LOVE your new blog design. SO happy!

    Yay, I’m glad to know you love my new design, Mamaholt! It IS meant to be happy. :-) —Pam

  15. Mary Ann says:

    Pam, Love getting to see the gardens even tho I can’t be there in person. Thanks for sharing the views. I so appreciate it. I am thinking its time to come back to Austin for Fling!

    Maybe so, Mary Ann, maybe so! Thanks for stopping by. —Pam

  16. Nicole says:

    Love this garden-I agree with the other comments, the shot of the reflecting pool with a carved stone fountain is stellar! Also love all the agaves and the general architectural look of the garden.

    It’s a wonderful garden, with many nice vistas to photograph. —Pam

  17. Denise says:

    You’re a wonderful post-tour guide, Pam. There’s been so much to learn from each of these amazing gardens.

    Thanks, Denise. One more to come on this tour, and it’s very cool. —Pam

  18. Amy F says:

    I cannot believe all this is in one garden! Missed this stop on the tour, so I’m really glad you shared. That Parry’s agave/ponyfoot combo is moving right up to the top of my garden covet list.

    It’s wonderful, isn’t it? All that icy blue. —Pam