Austin Open Days Tour 2012: Garden of Jeff Pavlat and Ray Clayton


My sixth and final stop on November 3rd’s Open Days tour was the garden of my friend Jeff Pavlat, located in the Westlake area. Jeff is vice president of the Austin Cactus and Succulent Society, and he’s kindly invited me to visit his garden before (click for my 2009 visit to Jeff’s garden and my 2010 visit to the Pavlat paradise).


Aside from the fact that Jeff’s garden is a succulent smorgasbord, one thing that always impresses me is that he and partner Ray Clayton also designed and built the extensive stone terracing that tames their narrow, steep hillside and enabled Jeff to turn this formerly unusable space into a traversable garden.


Plants are tucked into the terracing, creating a vertical garden effect. The terraces, along with the long street-level garden and house-level garden, come alive with exotic-looking aloes, agaves, dyckias, sotols, yuccas, and cacti—all manner of spiky and fleshy plants.


Jeff does go to certain lengths to preserve his more tender plants when it freezes, but he also uses many hardy succulents and cacti. Which ones are hardy in the Austin area? Check out the pdf list of cold-hardy plants on the Austin Cactus and Succulent Society’s website.


Potted plants placed in the garden beds add height and focal points. I particularly like these terracotta bowl planters, set atop homemade concrete pillars tinted with a terracotta mix-in color.


A trio of them includes a cactus landscape…


…a small agave, rock, and succulent dish…


…and a collection of aloes.


Variegated American agave writhes atop one of the terrace walls, overlooking a dizzying view down to the driveway.


Jeff’s garden is all about verticality. Limestone stairs lead up to street level from the house-level garden.


Desert Southwest cacti and succulents share garden space with tough, native flowering plants like four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa).


Small vignettes entice a closer look, but watch out for those spines.


Speaking of which…a proliferation of golden barrel cacti, like so many pincushions


A beautiful, frosty dyckia


Curvy-armed squid agaves (A. bracteosa). Jeff masses his succulent collection to great effect.


Halfway up the terraced hillside, Jeff and Ray carved out space for a small patio anchored in the center by a millstone fountain (not pictured) surrounded by Mexican beach pebbles. A yaupon or possumhaw holly anchors one corner of the patio, along with a vignette of potted barrel cacti and a squid agave.


A built-in bench along the wall offers the perfect spot to stop and enjoy the view.


Barrel cactus


Fleshy, spiny aloes bloom in cooler weather, sending up candelabras of tubular, coral-red flowers.


A tiny aloe in bloom


Variegated Agave desmettiana and silver ponyfoot make a dramatic gold-and-silver combo.


Yucca ‘Tiny Star’ adds its own golden gleam.


Even a metal agave finds a home here.


A silvery green dyckia carpets the ground next to an Asian-style sculpture, one of the many Zen touches in Jeff’s garden.


At the bottom of the driveway, at house-level, a limestone-bordered garden bed mulched in Texas Black gravel amps up the drama with a collection of golden barrel cactus, prickly pear, and other cacti, plus Texas sotol and two enormous Yucca rostrata standing sentry on either side of a stairway to the back of the house.


Next to the front walk, a fish pond adds the welcome surprise of water-loving plants in a dry garden.


Even here the property’s difficult slope is turned to advantage with the addition of a small waterfall.


Jeff is an avid plant collector and propagator, and his greenhouse houses hundreds of tender succulents and cacti. I suspect he’ll need a second greenhouse soon.

That wraps up the Austin Open Days Tour 2012. I hope you’ve enjoyed my virtual garden visits. For a look back at the art-collectors’ Rockcliff Road Garden, click here.

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

12 Responses

  1. Gail says:

    Pam, It must have been a treat to wander up and down the terraces at this garden. I am stuck in “Wow! What talent…” and “Wow, I want to see this garden.” and “Wow, Pam did a wonderful job of showcasing this garden.” “Wow!”

  2. Hoov says:

    I’m very surprised they only have one glasshouse. Wonderful garden.

  3. Thanks…catching up on your tour posts, but a ways to go…

    Odd, but the stairs did not grab me one bit, until I walked down them. Then – epiphany – they’re so nicely done! I liked the built-in seating almost as much, as I did all the succulents tucked in artfully, unlike most cactus gardens that I typically see no design in. Too bad I had to split and hit my last 2 gardens, but I made them all.

  4. Pam what a lovely tour, and thank you for all the tours! I really enjoyed your series, and all the close up shots and plant ID’s. This garden is so incredible – it must have been hard to leave, eh??? What a cool couple to create all that! Just amazing!

  5. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I hate to see these posts end. I will be back in the depths of winter to soak up some of this sun and these wonderful heat loving plants.

  6. jenny says:

    I’m sorry I missed the tour this year but your virtual visit is almost as good. I left feeling I need some changes in my garden. Shall it be this way or that. I think I am leaning towards the last garden visited. But how does he keep A. desmettiana alive through our winters? I know I can’t, so wonder about many of the others.

  7. Peter/Outlaw says:

    Sorry to see this series come to an end! It was especially cool to see the same gardens through a variety of lenses. Love this last garden, too. Lots of ideas to steal, um borrow.

  8. David says:

    I saw this garden on the Austin gardening show and was just amazed. It’s nice that you can see it in person.

    Pam…you asked about when the Sunset book was published.
    “Gardening in the Southwest” was published in 2005. I don’t know why it is so difficult to find. I found it as a happy accident at a half price book store. It’s a great book to add to your collection…if you can find a copy. Happy hunting!

    Loved your garden tours this past month. :0) David

  9. Shirley says:

    Enjoyed your tour and the local knowledge behind each of them.

    This has been fun to see your take on visiting the same gardens.

  10. Pam/Digging says:

    Thanks for your comments, everyone! —Pam

  11. Les says:

    I look forward to your garden tours. Thank you!

  12. Richard says:

    A beautiful garden, though a lot of that stuff is not winter hardy in Austin (at least not in a 2010 or 2011 winter). A lot of the tender stuff, though, looks like it’s in pots or dishes that could be brought in in case of an emergency. The columnar cactus is a Neobuxbaumia from Mexico and one of the best saguarolike cacti for Texas (better than a “real” saguaro)

    Richard, right you are about many of Jeff’s plants requiring some winter protection during hard freezes. Shirley Fox, who posted about Jeff’s garden on her blog Rock-Oak-Deer, overheard him talking about how he over-winters some of his plants and wrote, “He does cover many of these plants and moves the containers in the greenhouse when a freeze is predicted. Like most of us, his collection suffered losses in the deep freeze of 2011 when we experienced 70 hours below freezing.” —Pam