Tait Moring’s garden with a view

You’ve all been very good this year, and Santa says there’s time for one more garden tour before Christmas, so here you go. I visited this garden in late October, at the invitation of owner/designer Tait Moring, who had it all spruced up for a busload of folks from the Garden Club of America. Lucky (pushy) me—I arrived early, before the bus rolled in, and was treated to an unhurried personal tour. What a relaxed host! Some of you may remember that I posted about Tait’s garden in the spring of 2011, when it was on the Wildflower Center-sponsored Gardens on Tour. He’s made some changes since then, of course, and it was also a treat to see the garden in a different season.

Pictured above is the front entry of Tait’s home, which is located in Westlake right off busy Bee Caves Road. Tucked behind a tall screen of cedar posts and greenery, you’d never know the home (and design office) is hidden away just off the road, a surprisingly spacious property that overlooks a forested canyon. The modest, painted-brick ranch has a clean-lined, concrete front porch set off by a raised pond and fountain cloaked in fig ivy.

On the front porch, a collection of pots attracted my attention. The largest was appealingly top-dressed with colorful glass beads.

These smaller pots, made by local artist Rick Van Dyke, resemble dinosaur eggs. I’ve seen Van Dyke pots for sale recently at The Great Outdoors. (Adding to Christmas wish list…)

A wider view of the front of the house. Tait has a generous decomposed-granite parking area for guests and clients. The rock wall at left of the house has a gate that leads to the private back garden.

A trio of giant hesperaloe in tall, bronze pots balances an asymmetrical window, and a fourth pot concludes the line just past the window. A meadowy mix of two species of ornamental grasses softens the base of a low wall.

I really love this and am tempted to steal the idea.

The rock wall includes a triangular niche.

Found objects and rocky treasures are tucked among the mortared stones, becoming part of the wall too.

Step through the gate and you enter the back garden, which includes a lawn leading to a new swimming pool. Previously a ramada-shaded patio stood at the end of the lawn, but Tait decided a swimming pool was needed to get through Austin’s long, hot summers. (I totally agree, whether you swim in your own back-yard pool, Barton Springs, or one of the many city pools; cool water up to the neck is essential.) Tait told me he got a little grief during one of his garden tours about having a lawn, but he likes it for the entertaining space and says it’s pretty low maintenance. To my mind, these are perfect reasons to keep some lawn: you’ve reduced it to what you use, you keep it for a definite purpose, and you’ve planted a lawn grass that doesn’t need coddling. His lawn is a soothing, cooling counterpoint to the rest of the property, which is either planted heavily with natives and adapted plants or, along the canyon’s edge, left wild and natural.

A fall-blooming daisy tumbles around a birdbath in one of the planted borders.

Looking back, I stopped to admire the curved cedar post that arches over the gate. Such interesting touches add so much delight to the exploration of Tait’s garden. On this side the wall shelters a small seating area.

Tait told me an interesting story about his stone columns (he has several; for a front view of the carved detailing, scroll up a few pictures). He and his crew were digging around in an old quarry on a Hill Country ranch where they were doing some work when one of his crew spotted the carved stone lying amid the rubble. They pulled it out and found this treasure—well, several of them. Who knows how long they’d been lying abandoned in the quarry, and he wishes he knew something about their history. But now they adorn his garden, standing like door posts on either side of the lawn, topped with terracotta bowls of agave and silver ponyfoot. The pink vine climbing the column is mandevilla, a tropical vine that needs winter protection.

From the middle of the lawn, looking back, you see the side of Tait’s house, with a row of native Lindheimer muhly grasses softening the foundation.

A closer look

And a wider view

Tucked into the shady border alongside the lawn, amid Salvia coccinea, holly fern, river fern, and ivy, a fountain bubbles up out of a drilled stone.

The rectangular pool is backed by an irregular stone wall topped with staggered-height cedar-pole fencing and softened with lush, tropical-looking plants, giving the space a Mexican or South American vibe.

A tiki-style stone-head planter atop another carved column from the quarry adds to the sense of tropical mystery, as do bromeliads atop the wall.

Some of the tropical-looking plants along the wall are actually quite hardy and drought tolerant, like feathery bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) and giant hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera).

Just past the pool (you can see the house in the distance), cedar-mulched paths lead through the trees along the canyon’s edge, and down into the canyon too, as far as Tait’s had time to work on them. This small clearing provided a place for a colorful hammock strung between two cedar (juniper) trees.

Seven-foot-tall mounds of native daisies (Viguiera dentata) were in flower along the path, especially where the tree canopy was thinner. It was amazing to walk through these golden berms.

This trail led past one of the special features of Tait’s property: a beautiful, old Texas madrone (Arbutus xalapensis), more commonly found in the Hill Country to the west. Its smooth, white trunks seemed to glow under the leafy canopy. Texas madrone is picky about where it grows in ways not fully understood. Tait said that although he’s cleared out a bunch of cedar (juniper) trees in this area, he left the ones around the madrone. He’d heard of a rancher who cleared out the cedars around a colony of madrones only to watch the madrones die as a result. Perhaps there’s a symbiotic relationship underground, in the roots and the living soil?

I had to reach out and stroke the madrone’s smooth bark.

Just past the madrone, at the canyon’s edge, the trees open to this—a stunning Hill Country view. With rock found on his property, Tait built a stone circle with a fire pit in the middle, which overlooks the canyon. Because of the ongoing drought and burn ban, he hasn’t used it once, he said. But he built it, he explained, as an expression of hope that one day the drought would end and the rains would return. Fire or not, the stone circle is a lovely place to sit and take in the view.

I spotted a pretty cluster of frostweed (Verbesina virginica) on the walk back to the house.

More trails lead from the gardens down into the canyon.

A stone retaining wall marks the boundary between garden and wildscape. A berrying yaupon holly straddles the wall.

Moving around to the other side of Tait’s garden, an ornately wrought, nature-themed gate set between stout cedar posts leads to…

…a vegetable garden that stair-steps along the canyon’s edge. Beautiful stonework defines raised beds…

…and stairs back up to the house. Behind the cedar-pole screen at the top of the stairs is a rustic outdoor shower.

At the back of the house, a patchwork path made up of paving samples leads past the outdoor shower to a back deck.

The small deck overlooks the canyon and looks back to the lawn garden too.

Another Rick Van Dyke pot, planted with pencil plant (Euphorbia tirucalli), sits on a table.

A wider gate, matching the one that leads to the vegetable garden, separates one end of the driveway from a work area in back.

Snake detail

A fountain made of an industrial-looking steel pipe and a stock tank helps to drown out traffic noise along the street-side of the garden.

And a focal-point pot in the center of a small, circular lawn backed by bamboo and cedar trees offers an interesting vignette right before you leave.

I’m grateful to Tait for this tour of his beautiful and fascinating garden. What a treat! For more images of Tait’s garden click for my spring 2011 visit.

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

10 Responses

  1. Alison says:

    Thanks so much for one more garden tour! I love all those stone walls, and the carved pillars were quite a lucky find for him! Our native PNW madrona/madrone is also finicky.

    I wonder if all madrones are finicky about soil conditions, Alison? They are so beautiful, aren’t they? —Pam

  2. sandy lawrence says:

    … and when we were good, we were very, very good and that’s why we get this splendid, last garden tour treat of the year from Pam! Wow. Just wow. Didn’t want the post to end. Gorgeous stonework and ironwork, pots and plants. Thanks for all the great photo garden tours this year and for the well-written tour guide info as well.

    It was my pleasure to show Tait’s garden again, Sandy. I’m glad you enjoyed it. —Pam

  3. Scott Weber says:

    Those Madrones are just stunning…so glad they were able to save them…and that view into the wild area is priceless. Love the Lindheimer Muhly, of course ;-)

    Of course! —Pam

  4. Mamaholt says:

    Oh gosh, I LOVE this place!!

    My boys want some grass!! EEK. I’m slowing caving in and this garden was a bit of a reassurance. What kind of grass does Tait use?

    Do you know what kind of daisies those are? Magnificent. I’ve noticed the same or similar ones growing in near SHADE on many Austin trails/greenbelts. Would this be the same thing, you think?

    I can’t recall what kind of grass he has, Mamaholt. Maybe a zoysia? I think the daisies were skeleton-leaf goldeneye, or maybe some other variety of goldeneye. —Pam

  5. Shirley says:

    Love this garden, so unique and natural yet beautifully designed with simple and found objects. While most of us won’t find those columns laying around they are inspirational. Many great ideas are here that can be employed in some way in our own gardens too.

    Thanks for this gift and reminding us of a great garden tour.

    You are very welcome, Shirley. Tait’s garden is inspirational. —Pam

  6. jenny says:

    Who doesn’t love a garden tour….especially through the eyes of Pam Penick. You capture every garden you visit so well. I was interested to see the planting behind the pool as I am forever trying to settle on something behind my pool. Something that requires less work. The ‘patchwork’ pathway is stunning. I just love that look. In fact there isn’t much I don’t like about the garden. Even the grass! But the golden eye- such profusion. One of my favorite native bloomers. More tours please.

    I like the grass too, Jenny. It’s restful and makes a nice contrast to the densely planted borders. It’s the only patch on his large property, so why not? —Pam

  7. And to think I was quite content with the front view and a few photos after that. Then I read on…wow! It looks like the week of ultimate blog posts, few of which I’ve given the read they deserve. For now, the front with the repeated pots of Hesperaloe funifera is so nicely done.

    Aren’t they? What a great plant (and pot) for repetition. —Pam

  8. Robin says:

    One of my fave gardens on all the tours, Pam. I just loved his garden, as did most of us, on that original tour, and it’s great to see it in another season. Interestingly, as I was looking at it through your eyes, my thoughts went to how pretty his house color would be on your own. He painted his brick such a great shade of gray-celery-sage-green; it’s pleasing to the eye and looks modern at the same time. I recall when you first moved you were considering painting your brick, though with all your changes now, it might not be necessary.

    I do love his house color and considered something similar for my own when we recently had it painted. But it looked too heavy above the apricot brick, and we decided against painting our brick. I ended up going with a soft taupe color instead, and it turned out great. —Pam

  9. Jeremy says:

    Thanks for the garden tour Pam. I love this garden and you captured it so well.

    Thanks, Jeremy. —Pam

  10. I remember this garden from the tour, last year.
    It was one of my favorites. Simple, but really well done.
    Lots of inspiration here.

    I’m so glad you were able to see Tait’s garden last year, Linda. It really is full of inspiration. —Pam