European formality with relaxed Texas style in Ware Garden: San Antonio Open Days Tour

Last Saturday I road-tripped to San Antonio for the Open Days garden tour, sponsored by the Garden Conservancy. Shirley Fox of Rock-Oak-Deer was one of the organizers this year, and I was eager to see the gardens that she’d chosen for the tour.

The Ware Garden is the grandest, an estate-size property entered via a gate with stag sculptures on limestone pilasters. A long, curving drive leads past clipped yew and boxwood hedges, and you might think you’re only going to see lawn and live oaks.

Not so! Masses of tufty Mexican feathergrass add subtle golden color and texture beneath live oaks along the drive, where a dry stream channels runoff.

A circular pool and spouting fountain appear near the house, set in an emerald lawn amid the dark, gnarled trunks of dozens of live oaks.

And here it’s seen from the home’s front terrace. The live oaks make this scene magical, elevating it from something classically formal and rather ordinary — a fountain in a big, open lawn — and giving it a fairy-tale, dark-wood dimension. There’s a sense of mystery here.

Turning around, you see the front steps to the house — not at all ostentatious but rather a study in elegant simplicity: a pyramid of limestone steps, potted boxwood spheres, and a scrolled iron lantern alongside a handsome wooden door.

Side view

Walking around the house, you get a jolt of humor from a glass-mosaic cow wearing the Texas flag and gazing at a limestone-edged swimming pool, as if longing to take a dip.

In front, a fountain splashes in a raised rectangular pool, with a rill that leads the eye across the pool, where it stops at a perfectly manicured boxwood hedge, clipped to the same dimensions as a limestone retaining wall to the right.

Past the pool, a gentle slope is terraced with a low limestone wall. The house wraps around a rectangular lawn studded with more live oaks.

Clipped boxwood in various pots makes a simple and elegant accent throughout the garden.

Shallow limestone-and-gravel steps lead past a wing of the house with expansive windows, which I imagine provide a lovely view of the evergreen landscape. I believe that’s our native palmetto (Sabal mexicana) lifting its droopy-leaved fans to mingle with live oak limbs.

Palmetto and cast-iron plant add lush-leaved, subtropical San Antonio style (also common in Austin).

Details are simple and clean lined.

Rustic features like the rough cedar arbor are pure Central Texas.

The brochure says that the owners “envisioned a European garden reminiscent of a hotel where they had lived for three years. Architect Don McDonald…designed terraces around the house as a stage for beautifully sheared boxwood hedges and classic European pots planted with boxwood balls.”

A relaxing limestone-and-gravel terrace along the guest house…

…enjoys a view of the swimming pool and those wonderfully bent and twisted live oak trees and a gray-trunked Texas persimmon.

At the end of the lawn, a vine-draped cedar pergola with a faux bois bench offers a shady place to enjoy the view.

Looking back toward the main house

The beautifully pruned live oaks are the stars of this understated garden.

A lacy limb drapes around a narrow window in the guest house.

A small terrace off the main house features a built-in outdoor fireplace made of limestone.

A carved stone flower makes a pretty accent on the gravel paving.

A last look at the fountain, pool, and Cow Tex.

On the opposite side of the house, by a detached garage, a terraced boxwood parterre and center patio are framed by a monumental, grid-like trellis constructed of rough cedar posts and cloaked in fig ivy. The trellis runs from the garage to the house, connecting the two and creating a sort of window-walled garden room.

Clipped boxwood parterre, set off by limestone-and-brick paving.

In the central patio space, a faux bois table and chairs invite you to sit and enjoy the view. Under that long, snaking live oak limb, a handsome limestone trough and outdoor faucet make an outdoor sink.

The faux bois looks remarkably like real wood.

The elegant — and enormous — detached garage creates another sheltering wall for this outdoor space.

At a corner of the garage, in a space that might easily be overlooked, a wooden folding chair and white-garden urn create a pretty vignette.

There’s more to explore from here, as a limestone-paver path leads between boxwood spheres and olive and pine trees out to an olive grove.

Nearby, beneath the shady canopy of live oaks, classical planters and a wooden table and chairs beckon.

The classicism of this garden, tempered with rustic Central Texas features like limestone edging and shaggy cedar posts, is very appealing. European formal landscaping meets relaxing Texas style in the Ware Garden, and I loved it.

Up next: The Tupper Beinhorn Garden in San Antonio’s historic Monte Vista neighborhood.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.

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Don’t miss the Austin Open Days garden tour sponsored by the Garden Conservancy on November 4.

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28 Responses

  1. Loved this virtual tour, Pam. My favorite photo is the first one — there is so much to see in it from the rustic furniture (later I discovered it’s faux!!)to the fig ivy covered trellis. Grandeur meets intimacy. Beautiful pics. P. x

  2. I love that grid like trellis. I wish there was something like fig that would grow in our area. I see it used in many interesting patterns and places in the South. I also like the vignette with the flowers growing at the bottom of the urn, like they escaped capture.
    A nice garden. I can’t imagine keeping that much grass so green. It makes a lovely picture.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Fig ivy is really useful for a tight cloak of greenery. I’m glad we can grow it here in Central Texas, although it can be knocked back pretty hard by a deep freeze, which we do get from time to time. I believe I heard that they have their own well here, which I expect helps with keeping the grass green. —Pam

  3. Lara Leaf says:

    Thank you. Your attentive observation with excellent photographs are the next best thing to being there! In fact, if I had toured this garden, my gaze would have swept over it and, while enjoying the overall scheme and grandeur of it, I doubt I would have observed all the detail you bring to our attention – detail which makes it so special. I really like to read your garden tours – they bring these gardens so close to people who have never seen them. It is inspiring to read about these gardens. I am hoping I will eventually regain enough health and strength to get back to do a little bit in mine. In the meanwhile, reading your blogs has given me the determination to at least plant a few large clay containers on my patio with sunny yellow and pristine white pansies and snapdragons to bring some brightness to this coming winter! Over a long life, I’ve been involved with many arts, crafts, hobbies, etc. and really enjoyed them and the results, but gardening has been a mainstay since I was a little girl. I don’t know of an activity that brings more goodness to a person. So rewarding!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Lara, thank you for such a lovely comment. I’m really glad to know that you enjoy my virtual garden tours. Writing about them helps me to better understand what appealed to me when I was taking the photos, and it serves as a memory record. But knowing that others get a lot out of them too makes it even more rewarding to write them! I hope you’re able to get back to your own garden in the way you would like. Until then, you are right that even a few pretty containers can bring much joy! —Pam

  4. You are so right about the front fountain within the oak woods. Beautiful. But I have to say I am always somewhat disturbed when I see landscaping on this scale that ignores Texas climate. That garden must use a ton of water, personal well or not.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I share that concern, Linda. Even with a private well, we must all be conscious of the fact that water is a shared public resource. I can’t speak to how much water is used to maintain this garden because I didn’t hear from anyone about that. I will say that lawns tend to green up nicely here after the fall rains, and we had a ton of rain during Hurricane Harvey. Aside from the extensive lawns, this garden actually looks pretty low-water to me, with natural areas of Mexican feathergrass, low-water live oaks and olive trees, and a few pockets of native palmetto and cast-iron plants and potted boxwoods. —Pam

  5. Shirley says:

    Pam, beautiful post. You’ve captured the concepts of this landscape perfectly. I am forwarding this to Mrs. Ware.

  6. Kris P says:

    The grounds do have a formal, hotel resort like feel. It’s too formal for my taste, although a beautiful and restful landscape. My favorite features were the cow and the faux bois table and chairs.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      It’s not the style I would have designed for myself either, but I really loved it. It was perfectly suited to the house. And yes, the cow and faux bois furniture make fun accents. —Pam

  7. I could live here! I like the open feel, the formal lines and use of familiar Austin materials is striking. The faux bois furniture is awesome. Great photo tour!

  8. lcp says:

    Pam,you have no idea how grateful I am for this Most Excellent Tour! This is the garden I dearly regretted missing this past Saturday, but I think reading your post is almost like being there in person: THANKS!

  9. rickii says:

    Your words helped me to appreciate the finer points of a rather intimidating garden style. We don’t need to WANT a garden to LOVE it.

  10. Heidi says:

    Such wow factor, has this won any design awards?! How cool would it be to stay in a place like this, even for a night! That giant trellis was so creative, what a vision. I liked all of the limestone steps, gorgeous metal lanterns, and the elongated window with brick adornment. Truth is I enjoyed it all, this was masterfully executed in my opinion.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      It’s beautifully done, and the interesting thing to me is that the architect designed the garden himself rather than collaborating with a landscape architect or garden designer. Obviously it’s not a plant-rich, super diverse garden, but it’s not strictly architectural either. It’s a nice marriage of house and elegantly restrained garden. —Pam

  11. Dana Ehrlich says:

    Thanks for the lovely tour. It’s well designed and peaceful, but for some reason it left me feeling a little cold. Way too formal, too many straight lines and uninspiring plants in pedestrian planters, somehow reminded me of a luxury hotel or office. Not my style but for those who like restraint, it’s perfect.

  12. Nell says:

    Completely smitten with this garden and your evocative photos. Nothing better than live oaks to dispel the death star, and these are beautifully arrayed.

    The beflagged cow sculpture at the limestone pool: udderly, udderly Austin.

  13. Nell says:

    Amend that to “udderly, udderly Texas”…

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