Cottage garden magic and art in sculptor Tom Ellison’s garden


In the one-more-reason-to-blog category, you meet the nicest people. A couple of years ago, while I was cruising the aisles at Barton Springs Nursery, Tom Ellison introduced himself as a Digging reader. We stayed in touch, and recently he let me know he’d started a website, Ellison Sculpture Garden, with information about his art and his garden — not a blog, exactly, but a conversation opener for sure. I promptly took advantage of the opener to invite myself over for a visit, and Tom graciously agreed.


Located in West Austin’s beautiful, tree-shaded Tarrytown neighborhood, where original bungalows and ranch homes like Tom’s are being replaced by lot-filling new houses, Tom’s expansive garden is a cottage delight filled with old-fashioned favorites like canna, daylilies, four o’clocks, iris, and rose of Sharon.


Enclosed by an open-lattice, Asian-influenced fence of his own construction…


…and neighbor-friendly gate…


…and with inviting garden “rooms” that open one after another on a path around the house…


…and accented with his sculptures made of found objects, Tom’s garden is a delight to explore.


Tom is active in the Austin Daylily Society — which coincidentally is holding its annual daylily show and sale this Saturday, May 24, at Zilker Botanical Gardens — and quite a few varieties were blooming or in bud during my visit, including ‘Grey Witch’.


Four o’clocks, with Tom’s Spire One sculpture


Cerise cannas stand out with tropical brilliance against the cream stone of the house.


And near the front steps, a thoughtful frog adds a humorous note to an urn-style birdbath backed by boxwood.


I admired the seedheads on this Gladiolus tristis, which extend its season of interest.


A closer look


An open gate in a low, metal fence invites you into the next garden room, whose centerpiece is a raised pond filled with lotus. A gravel path leads around the pond on the right; on the left it delivers you to a small, shaded patio.


The morning light illuminated orange canna and dyckia blooms and highlighted the chartreuse foliage of sedum, sedge, and iris.


Beautiful composition


At right, the pond’s “headwaters” burble up amid boulders and river rock. A metal heron snags a goldfish for breakfast.


A toothy dyckia in a white pot makes a pretty focal point, especially in bloom.


Investigating the narrow path around the pond I found cheery daylilies…


…and a pretty, textured pot situated in a garden bed as a focal point.


Here’s a view of the heron and the pond from the other side. Just behind the green parasols of lotus, a bistro table and chairs are visible on the side patio.


Heading around for a closer look, I stopped to admire potted orange zinnias…


…and I enjoyed a new view of the lotus. These will bloom later in the summer, and what a show they must put on.


On the left side, the elevated pond spills into a small, rocky pool.


Nearby, the first rose of Sharon of the season had just opened. The large shrub was absolutely covered in buds.


Buddha contemplates the foxtail fern.


A path leads from the pond through the narrow side yard along the house, where Tom constructed yet another beautiful water feature: a meandering stream.


It gurgles past a fairy garden that Tom’s grandchildren enjoy…


…and whispers under a wooden bridge adorned with red pots of foxtail fern.


Tom repurposed old doors into a Mexican-style garden gate to the street (his garden occupies a corner lot and has gates leading to both streets).


The stream ends just past an intimate flagstone patio on which a pair of Adirondacks invites you to sit and enjoy the garden.


Potted plants add color, height, and seasonal interest.


The path continues along the back of the house, past Tom’s workshop and carport, and into a tiny back garden that Tom uses to showcase a number of his sculptural pieces, including these bottle light-catchers, a folk-art guitar, and colorful bowling balls set on pedestals. Bold foliage plants add to the drama of this shady, art-adorned space.


Grandpa’s Wrenches echoes the tiered structure of the bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis) blooming behind it.


Tom’s garden is a delight to explore, especially as his beloved daylilies come into bloom. I really liked his beautifully arranged garden rooms, each inviting you in and rewarding you with vignettes of plants, water, and art. Thank you, Tom, for sharing your garden with me!

If you’d like to see more of Tom’s garden, watch a 2007 interview with him on Central Texas Gardener and visit his website, where you can also browse his sculptures for sale. And remember, if you like daylilies as much as Tom does, be sure to attend the Austin Daylily Society’s annual show and sale this Saturday, 1 to 4 pm, at Zilker Botanical Gardens. The event is free, although there is a small parking fee at the garden.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

29 Responses

  1. rebecca says:

    Oh, my! So thrilled to be introduced to this garden…it has all the elements that I admire! Many new things to me – one being the Cerise canna.

    Wish Austin was closer to Indiana!

  2. Beth says:

    Lovely garden! His web site is great too.

  3. Cheryl says:

    Ahhh. More inspiration! Thank you!

  4. Dee Nash says:

    A breath of fresh air as I sip my tea and eat my breakfast toast. Those lotus leaves are really exquisite. Even though they aren’t the same shape as ginkgo leaves, they have that same feel to me. I love daylilies too as you know. Mine are just starting to send up scapes. Yay! I loved his use of foxtail fern too. I use it a lot in pots because it’s bulletproof. See you soon.~~Dee

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Lotus leaves, and ginkgo too, seem prehistoric, don’t they? What I love about lotus leaves, besides the extravagant shape, is the way you can roll beads of water around on them like drops of mercury. —Pam

  5. Robin says:

    Oh my gosh! Be still my heart, what an awesome place! Somehow you’ve GOT to find a way to have a blogger tour of this place. Love the streams, ponds and especially the headwater feature, and his luscious old-fashion plants are right up my alley. Seriously, one of the best.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Robin, I wish you could have joined the blogger group yesterday for the tour of the Hutto garden. You could have met Tom yourself. I invited him to join us since he and the garden owner are both sculptural artists and I thought he’d enjoy the tour. —Pam

  6. Alison says:

    What a marvelous place! I absolutely love all the art, but especially those repurposed doors. The heron is pretty cool too.

  7. TexasDeb says:

    Love the modern art pieces in play against the old fashioned favorite plants. I hadn’t seen cerise cannas before – spectacular color especially as echoed in the Rose of Sharon and Four-O-Clock blooms. Really like the repurposed door as garden gate, the meandering stream, oh, all of it, really. A great glimpse of what can be done under oak trees in an old Austin neighborhood without taking anything too seriously.

  8. Malcolm W. says:

    Beautiful garden.

  9. Amy says:

    Oh, my gosh, this is beautiful! I love his vingettes, especially with the delicate daylily and four o’clock flowers in front of greenery! This is exactly the type of yard I would like to have, although we’re a LONG way from that just yet. His front fence and gate have given me an idea I’d like to try. Thanks for sharing…and, as always, your photos are stunning!

  10. Kris P says:

    Nice garden! It manages to be both peaceful and interesting. I love the heron sculpture and the gladiola seedheads were wonderful – more interesting than the flowers themselves to my eye.

  11. Beautiful – can just imagine getting “lost” while savoring all the little nooks, crannies, and interesting plants. Seriously lusting after that heron sculpture, too. Thanks for opening the garden gates on this one.

  12. Tina says:

    Such a lovely Austin-y garden. Those two doors–great additions and they give the garden a sense of intimacy. Ditto on that heron sculpture.

  13. […] here’s our group enjoying the garden. From left to right: honorary blogger Tom Ellison (whose garden I recently toured), Ally of Garden Ally, Bob of Central Texas Gardening, Diana of Sharing Nature’s Garden, me, […]

  14. Such a fun garden, Pam! In addition to the art and plants, I just loved the gates, fences and doors. I followed the link to the Ellison Sculpture Garden website and was tickled to see that our beloved ‘Best of Friends’ daylily also grows in Tom Ellison’s garden.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Yes, I noticed ‘Best of Friends’ blooming in his garden while I was there. I believe he said he’d seen it on both our blogs, Annie. —Pam

  15. I think I am going to borrow that pot of orange zinnias idea!!!! Cheery!

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