Stalking the urban prairie high atop eight metal legs, her bulbous abdomen glittering with blue and green gazing balls, this 23-ft. tall Shelob-sized spider by Houston artist Dixie Friend Gay (titled ‘Arachnophilia’) is one of three larger-than-life sculptures placed amid native plants and crushed-granite jogging trails at Mueller (pronounced Miller), a New Urbanist community in east-central Austin.
A closer look at the spider’s abdomen. She appears to have been feasting in a Victorian garden full of gazing balls.
Mueller Airport closed to air traffic 10 years ago, replaced by a bigger international airport southeast of downtown. Now single-family homes on small lots, row houses, and apartments occupy land once reserved for runways, and the developers tout the community’s green-building program and water-wise landscaping. At first glance it looks like a pretty cool place to live, but Mom and I were just visiting last Friday, checking out the restored Blackland prairie and fun sculptures in the Southwest Greenway, like ‘Wigwam,’ this 17-ft. tall tower by Austin artist Chris Levack. A labyrinth of native grasses and sprawling Lindheimer senna spirals to a termination point under the tower.
Numerous kidneywood trees (Eysenhardtia texana) were in full bloom, which meant the bees were aswoon and so was I: the flowers smell absolutely delightful. I grew one of these small, airy native trees in my old garden, and I loved its citrus-scented leaves and fragrant white flower spikes that appear throughout the summer.
My nose was pressed to the flowers for a dreamy moment.
From this vantage point you can see two of Chris Levack’s sculptures at the same time. (In fact, I think they’re placed rather too close together and should have been given more prominence through separation.) The spherical sculpture next to ‘Wigwam’ tower is called ‘Pollen Grain.’ More about it in a moment.
Turning back to the plants, I noticed that some areas are planted in single-specimen arrangements: a large swath of black dalea (Dalea frutescens) here; nearby, distinct plantings of prickly pear, damianita, and a sad patch of purple coneflower that appeared not to have survived the summer. It’s a contemporary treatment, with each group of plants set off from the others by edging.
Crouching for a better look at the black dalea, I heard a steady, deep humming that told me the whole swath was alive with bees. Between the kidneywood and the dalea, the bees were very happy indeed.
Near the dalea, a tunnel of desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) shelters a curving path with benches. Lovers’ lane?
The trail winds its way through the straddling legs of Levack’s ‘Pollen Grain’, a 14-ft. tall sphere that represents a microscopic grain of pollen. I learned this from the artist’s wife, who happened to be running past, heard us talking about it, and stopped to tell us that her husband had made it. It was a fun chance encounter.
Detail of ‘Pollen Grain’
We had already exclaimed over the unique drain covers that my mom declared a snake design. Levack’s wife told us that he designed those too. I love the craftsmanship given even to such utilitarian objects.
Among the spineless prickly pear (Opuntia) one was still blooming.
A blazing sunflower caught my eye too.
Winding our way to the giant spider we admired this arrangement of softleaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia), agave, native grasses, and lantana. The spiky plants provide evergreen structure and lead the eye through the scene; the other plants provide texture and seasonal color. Deer would not favor any of these, except for the yucca blooms.
An emerging flower spike on a softleaf yucca
Seeing as the spider was either preparing to pounce or waving goodbye, we took our leave. But I’ll be back soon with my kids in tow so they too can appreciate the sights, sounds, and sweet smells of Mueller’s greenbelts.
Other bloggers’ perspectives on Mueller:
Lee visited during bluebonnet season. See The Grackle’s March post about Mueller.
Meredith recently posted about the Southwest Greenway at Great Stems and shows the early-fall scene.
All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.