Gardens on Tour 2013: Highland Terrace West Garden

I used to walk by this house every day while picking up my son from kindergarten, and each time I’d gape at the lush, shade garden fronting the charming cottage with the welcoming front porch, wondering what the rest of the place looked like. Twelve years later, I finally found out. The Highland Terrace West garden, located in north-central Austin’s Highland Park neighborhood, was the fourth we visited on the Wildflower Center-sponsored Gardens on Tour last Saturday. Let’s take a tour together, shall we?

The deep front porch has always called to me. It’s so inviting, and I love the cozy, red-and-brown color scheme.

One of the porch columns has been partially removed (I assume it wasn’t weight-bearing), and the remaining section now serves as a plant pedestal. For a red pot, of course, with coleus to match, sweet potato vines providing chartreuse and eggplant accents, and a reddish grass adding height.

At its base, a homemade concrete dish holds a tiny cactus and succulent collection.

The garden is packed with charming details, with interesting vignettes around every turn. But I knew the owners were fearless when I spotted this window box packed with succulents and my touring buddy Cat leaned in to touch the leaves of the large, purple echeverias. “They’re not real,” she said. They sure do pass though. I decided on the spot that someone with the chutzpah to pull off a mix-up of real and fake plants was going to be defying expectations in other ways, and I hoisted my camera to be ready.

One thing this garden excels at is using commonplace plants in particularly beautiful ways. Here, softleaf yucca, purple heart, and ‘Katie’ dwarf ruellia combine long, pointy leaf shapes in various hues, making a pretty setting for a piece of garden sculpture. Silver ponyfoot froths at its feet.

As you walk around the right side of the house, you see another fabulous combination in silvery pale-green, anchored by a silver Mediterranean fan palm (I think). Groundcovers flow around a large boulder set in the bed, and on the fence a frilly metal ornament provides a color echo of the plants.

I covet this combo. And to think I used not to care much for palms. Scenes like this have converted me.

Side yards are often repositories for trash bins and workbenches, and the owners have beautified even these necessaries. The trash bins and wheelbarrow are tucked behind a handsome, gated extension of the board fence.

A wider view reveals the gated bin corral on the right and a winding path that ducks around a tree as it leads to the rear garden. Two structures ahead obscure a longer view and entice you forward.

But eye-catching details along the path also grab your attention, like this marble-mulched succulent bowl. Oakleaf hydrangea blooms behind a rusty-leaved loropetalum.

Just past the tree, a glassed-in structure reveals a work sink and storage for potting supplies and tools.

Across the gravel path, on an open stretch of fence, hang three charming “pictures” of white pottery planted up with green ivies and ferns. A living still life.

Now you see the sunlit back garden opening up, but first you pass through a shady, peaked arbor hung with crystal decorations and a candelabra. Can you imagine this all lit up for an evening lawn party?

Looking back from the other side. The windows and hanging decor have caught another visitor’s eye.

Now you step onto a circular lawn — and you start turning in circles yourself, taking everything in, starting with this vine-draped, roofed seating area on the far side of the garden. Those fiery, red-cushioned chairs attract the eye and brighten up the dark-stained structure. To the right, a weeping willow drapes protectively over a stone fountain and pool.

A closer look at the water feature tucked into the garden border.

To the right of that, a tidy square-foot garden is situated in a sunny spot.

Panning right again, you see a colorful bed of salvia and annual larkspur, accented here with a large lantern.

And finishing the 360-degree circuit (skipping past the covered arbor I already showed you), you see the back of the house, painted dark brown with creamy white trim. My touring companions David of The Desert Edge and Cat of The Whimsical Gardener are giving me goofy grins while Shirley from Rock-Oak-Deer is intent upon another shot in a small rear courtyard.

More red! These gardeners love hot color. A crimson rose clambers along the house, accented by a red gazing ball and glazed container on a small deck.

A comfortable lounging spot for one is tucked by the back door.

An aside: I think I was stopped at least once, sometimes twice, at every garden on this tour by readers who recognized me. Embarrassingly, I am getting somewhat used to being recognized on area garden tours, but it’s still kind of a strange experience for this introvert writer. Plus Cat teased me mercilessly about it. (Gotcha, Cat!) But one big perk about being recognized is a sense of community that you get (Central Texas gardeners unite!), not to mention the gratifying realization that people who aren’t even related to you read your blog. More than that, you get to meet lovely individuals like the mom here with her adorable 5-week-old baby. After she introduced herself as a reader, I had to take her baby’s picture to share with you. (If you’re reading, my friend, thanks for the dose of cuteness!)

Anyway, while admiring the shade structure on the far side of the garden…

…I was recognized by the owners of the garden, Bruce Baldwin and Colleen Jamison, who came over to introduce themselves. I was thrilled to meet them and told them that I’d been hoping to visit their garden for 12 years, since those long-ago kindergarten pick-up days. Bruce is the builder of the garden structures, and Colleen is the plant designer. Together they make a fine team.

Taking a peek inside the shade structure, I was half-tempted to sink into one of these red-cushioned chairs or sofas, but there was still plenty of garden to see.

A parting look reveals an electric chandelier hanging from the peaked roof. Clearly this is a garden meant to be used at night as well as during the day.

Hung on a post, this vertical succulent planter caught my eye.

Just outside in a sunny bed, this succulent and cactus planter set amid purple heart and verbena makes a beautiful focal point.

A wider view of a perennial bed with a curving decomposed-granite path cutting through it.


In the back corner, hidden in a screen of pomegranate foliage, a ceramic frog holds court atop an old tree stump.

Still with me? Now we venture down the other side of the house. The owners have made appealing gardens even in the tricky side yards. Why tricky? Side yards are notoriously narrow and often deeply shaded and lacking in privacy. A board fence takes care of the privacy issue, and the typical bowling-alley effect is avoided by incorporating curves in the path and large shrubs that obscure the long view. Destinations along the way — a fountain, a bench, an intimate deck — give you reasons to stop and look.

Shade-loving plants like oakleaf hydrangea and glossy-leaved holly fern brighten up dark corners…

…as do sparkly garden ornaments.

This was one of four water features in the garden, and my favorite. A classic pool and fountain, with a garden bench and “window” on the fence, surrounded by greenery, evokes New Orleans-style courtyards.

I doubt this bench really gets used, situated amid groundcovering Asian jasmine as it is, but it adds such a welcoming touch to the garden. The owners framed a poster with a cast-off window and hung it on the fence. I don’t know how they keep the poster weatherproofed, but I love the idea.

More of their fearlessness on display: a tall blue pot is planted with a few cascading plants and accented with a blue, sparkly floral arrangement.

Nearby, sparkling blue ornaments hang from a wire holder.

Looking back along the side-garden path. As you can see, ordinary, glossy-leaved shrubs like holly and pittosporum are used liberally but not pushed in a tight line along the foundation. Instead they bow out, adding dimension to the space. Likewise with commonplace (and often reviled) Asian jasmine, which here is put to good use as a shade-tolerant, light-reflecting, evergreen groundcover. Keeping them neatly edged and trimmed is key to their good looks.

A small deck is shoehorned into the side garden — perfect, I imagine, for breakfast on a summer morning. A wired chandelier hangs above a table and chairs, creating an implied ceiling and also adding to after-dark enjoyment.

Cat and David take a break on the back steps. David is contemplating a move to Austin from Albuquerque, New Mexico. There’s always room for another gardener, garden blogger, and garden designer here, right?

I love the design of the wooden privacy fence, with different-width boards and even a slanting detail on this section.

From the outside you can really appreciate the design. Even the gate — a repurposed old door with a hand-cultivator handle — is a work of art.

In front, under a spreading tree, a soft, feathery sweep of yarrow makes an appealing groundcover.

Bruce and Colleen began gardening in the formerly weedy median in front of their house several years ago, creating a very low-water landscape to screen the view of cars parked across the street. Their neighbors along the street have gotten into the spirit as well and have extended the median garden and help maintain it. What a gift the neighbors are giving to each other by creating a shared garden space!

My garden-tour companions: from left, David, Shirley, Jenny, me, and Cat. Check out their blogs for more perspectives on the gardens I’ve been showing you, especially Jenny’s post about this garden. She volunteered in it for several hours during the tour and enjoyed a personal tour with the owners before the crowds arrived.

Next up: The architectural Bonnell Garden. For a look back at the naturalistic Placid Place Garden, click here.

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

20 Responses

  1. Shirley says:

    This was a wonderful garden to visit and your captured it with all the great ideas so very well. Everything was just beautifully planted and placed.

    We do look like we’re having fun. After two of the these Austin garden tours now, I’m even getting used to you being recognized! Now if I can just get used to seeing myself in the front row in a group photo.

    You’ll be recognized on San Antonio garden tours, Shirley, if you aren’t already, since you have a profile picture on your blog. I am certain you have a loyal readership already. —Pam

  2. ricki says:

    Although I’m sure this garden was as grand as the first two, the cozy atmosphere makes it seem more accessible. What a fun community of gardeners and bloggers you have there. Thanks for sharing the good times.

    It was indeed an intimate garden, Ricki, not “grand” at all, and well-suited to the cottage-style home. Yes, I feel very fortunate to be part of Austin’s vibrant gardening community. —Pam

  3. Alison says:

    I loved every single little thing about this garden that you showed us, even the fake Echeverias. I really need to figure out how to work more seating areas into my garden.

    I’m sure that having someone to tour gardens with who is just as enthusiastic as you are is so much more fun than going it alone. Peter, The Outlaw Gardener, and I are going to be touring a few gardens this summer, and I am really looking forward to it. You have a great group there.

    How cool that you are recognized by readers!

    You will have so much fun touring with another gardener and blogger, Alison! It does make all the difference. Make a day of it! —Pam

  4. Kate S. says:

    So funny that you mention being recognized in this post, because I saw you at this garden when you were grabbing the photo of the owners above! I wasn’t sure what to say, being a total stranger (I’m not very good at those things), so I went on my merry way. :)

    I will say now that when my son was born 8 months ago and I spent a lot of time sitting and nursing, I stumbled upon this site while trying to look something up and now I’m kind of obsessed with gardening, almost entirely because of this blog! I have to thank you, because I have learned SO. MUCH. about gardening in Austin as a Phoenix transplant. Your recaps of tours, etc, provide really great detail (including slight constructive criticisms or positive reinforcement) of ideas that have given me a healthy scope of what is appropriate and wise here or not, especially given the recent intensity of this awful drought (coming from Phoenix during the lush rainfall years of 2006-2007, this place was practically tropical in comparison). I can’t believe I drive through our neighborhood or ride my bike through the Veloway, recognizing plants left and right that I had no idea about for years! As trite as this may sound, it really is like a new world was kind of opened up to me. It’s kind of hilarious, even my husband now recognizes plants like silver ponyfoot and points them out to me to show me he knows. :D

    So thank you!

    Kate, your comment really made my day — thank you! I’m deeply touched to hear that my posts have inspired you to become a gardener and helped you tune in to Austin’s local flora. I read your comment to my husband, who also does that thing of pointing out plants that he knows now too. So endearing, right? Happy digging! —Pam

  5. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    While gardens are beautiful and enrich our lives it is the people we share with that absolutely lift us up. It is such fun know a “famous” person. Thanks for taking us along.

    Well, the local gardening community is a fairly small pool, so my “fame” isn’t quite enough to go to my head, I hope. ;-) If it ever does, I feel sure that Cat will set me straight — ha! —Pam

  6. Jean says:

    Lots of imaginative things here and I LOVE that framed white pottery. A big hello to some of my favorite garden touring companions! :-)

    Hello, Jean! I loved that framed pottery too — so much, in fact, that I’m showing it again tomorrow in my Foliage Follow-Up post. —Pam

  7. How fun! I checked out some of the other posts about this garden, too. Gosh, where do I start?! So many whimsical touches that are really quite spectacular–like the bowl of succulents with marble mulch, the asymmetrical but nicely planned square-foot garden, and the framed white pottery planters. Really very special! And what a great group of touring companions!

    Weren’t all the creative touches fun? They were such a treat to discover as you roam the garden. I’m glad you enjoyed the tour. —Pam

  8. I loved that they had the chutzpah to do that funky planter with all the glittery blue fake flowers. This garden seems huge; any idea of the size of their lot?

    It is not particularly large, Linda, although all those garden rooms help it live large. I’d say it’s about a quarter-acre lot. —Pam

  9. I love how mature this garden appears. It is so full….so much texture. Nice bright colors too – looks like it has it all, eh? I can see why you wanted to see more of it. Reading your blog a few years I am surprised you never peeked over the fence lady!

    I’m pretty well-behaved, Heather. ;-) I’m glad you enjoyed the tour. —Pam

  10. I loved everything about this post! The beautiful garden, the fact that you finally got to visit a garden you’d been watching/thinking about for years, the fact that you’re a local garden celebrity (!), the excellent group you toured with, and the comments. I’m so proud to know you and be a part of this world…

    Aw, thanks, Loree. I’m so glad to know you too, and to be a part of the fabulous garden-blogging community. It’s been life-changing for me. —Pam

  11. Cynthia says:

    Oh, I’m so sorry we didn’t visit this garden, but thanks to you, I can enjoy it from afar. More time must be devoted to this tour next year!

    It’s so hard to know which gardens to visit when you only have time for a few. I’m glad to have been able to give you a virtual tour of this one, and I know you saw some good gardens too. —Pam

  12. What a wonderful tour, Pam. Thanks for sharing all the garden’s great details. I almost feel I was there with you – Austin’s definitely a place I need to visit one day.

    For sure, Kris! And if you are able to time your visit with the bi-annual Austin Open Days Tour, you’ll really get to enjoy some nice gardens. Anyway, I’m glad you’re enjoying the virtual tours. —Pam

  13. Joy says:

    Loved viewing this garden and all the special details in it! AND, enjoyed meeting you in person (I’m the lady with the baby). I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time and have read every post on it. As a transplant from the north, it has been extremely useful in helping me see that southern gardens, while different, can be just as beautiful as the lush ones of the north! I’m currently transforming our two acres into our oasis or at least an oasis for the wildlife. Thanks so much for the blog, and the picture!

    Joy! Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to meet you, and I’m so happy to know that Digging has helped you learn to garden in the South — and, more than that, to appreciate the natural beauty of our more rugged and thorny landscape here in central Texas. Hi to your cute little one too. :-) —Pam

  14. I enjoyed the tour. My favorites are always the gardens designed (well designed, that is) by the homeowners. Nothing against garden designers, but there is a special feel when the homeowner has a hand in the garden.

    Well, I don’t have anything against garden designers either (ha!), but like you, I think well-designed homeowner gardens are most enjoyable to visit. They are infused with a personality that a third-party-designed garden can only achieve in partnership with a homeowner who’s deeply involved in the garden. —Pam

  15. Cat caused me to be goofy… Giving away a very high ranked place in my relocation plans, I see! Yours’ is a thorough treatment of this personable garden, to be sure.

    Yes, it’s usually Cat’s fault where goofiness is concerned. It was a fun day touring with you all. Glad you could join us. And if that tour didn’t sell you on Austin, well, then we gave it our best effort. :-) —Pam

  16. Chris says:

    When you recently appeared on Central Texas Gardener, I opened my mouth to tell my husband my friend Pam Penick was on television. Then I realized I have never met you. You have a wonderful knack of making your readers feel at home. I really do feel as if I know you.

    Hi, Chris, and thank you for the lovely compliment! I’m so glad to know that you feel at home here at Digging. That’s all that I hoped for when I started this blog. :-) Thanks for saying so. —Pam

  17. Colleen says:

    I have to admit that even though this is my garden, it is SO much fun to see it through your eyes. Pam, thank you for the fabulous visual tour. I love seeing what you love!

    We have had so much fun with this, and are tickled pink that others are enjoying it too. Again, thanks!

    Hi, Colleen! You and Bruce are so generous to share your garden creation with the public — so thank YOU! I loved seeing your garden and all the creative touches that make it uniquely yours. It’s full of inspirational ideas. And it was a treat to meet you and Bruce too! —Pam

  18. Fern Francis says:

    My son Michael, who lives in Austin, introduced me to your blog, I am so glad he did, I love it. Loved the tour of this garden, seeing it through your eyes.

    Welcome, Fern! I’m glad you enjoyed the tour. Please stop by again soon. —Pam

  19. Dan says:

    I had the tour many many times, but I lust for one more now!!!