Sharing nature’s beauty in the garden of Diana Kirby

I’ve enjoyed many a visit at the garden of my good friend Diana Kirby, designer at Diana’s Designs, garden columnist at the Austin American-Statesman, and publisher of the blog Sharing Nature’s Garden. But inexplicably I’ve never done a photo tour of her lovely garden, and I’m remedying that today with photos from a mid-October visit.

Diana’s garden rocks tropical-style color and bold foliage in back by her swimming pool, but in front along the street, where it’s hot and dry, she created a large, tiered bed with drought-tolerant native and adapted plants like autumn sage (Salvia greggii), society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea), whale’s tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia), fall aster (Aster oblongifolius), and gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida). Silvery foliage and purple and pink flowers offer a cool but colorful look for hot summers.

Yellow appears in fall when golden thryallis (Galphimia gracilis) starts to bloom. All these plants are deer resistant, by the way. The deer in Diana’s southwest Austin garden don’t seem to be as voracious (or pesky in terms of antlering damage) as in other parts of town, but they will eat obvious deer candy like roses and tender succulents, so she chooses plants with strongly scented, hairy, or fibrous leaves.

Closer to the house, along the front walk, variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’), purple-leaved Chinese fringeflower (Loropetalum chinense), and annual zinnias thrive. (Zinnias get eaten in my garden, for comparison.)

The garden gets much shadier by the front door, with several small trees along the stone-edged walk
and a lush understory.

I love this shady combo of ‘Sparkler’ sedge (Carex phyllocephala ‘Sparkler’), Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus), sago palm (Cycas revoluta), and root beer plant, aka hoja santa (Piper auritum).

Persian shield, ‘Sparkler’ sedge, and asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’)

I am in love with this spiky pink hairdo of a plant, Dracaena marginata ‘Tricolor’, which I assume Diana brings inside in winter. Its pink coloring is enhanced by surrounding pink lantana and the rosy fruits of a pomegranate tree.

Like an exploding firework, right?

Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) adds vibrant purple spires nearby.

Heading around to the back garden, you pass through a woodland trail, where stepping stones sitting flush with river rock double as a dry stream during downpours.

This naturalistic garden is chock-full of shade-loving plants.

A cool oasis on a hot summer’s day

And these adorable ceramic fish love it too! I was with Diana when she bought these at The Arbor Gate in Tomball, Texas.

Cobalt appears again in a ceramic pot with ‘Chocolate Chips’ manfreda and a ceramic bird.

A bubbling birdbath fountain is for the birds — and maybe the deer. Diana is more tenderhearted than I — ha!

A serene Buddha head rests against a tree.

And a plantable lady’s head wears a squid agave (Agave bracteosa) hairdo.

Fishhooks senecio trails from a steel wall planter with a little ceramic mushroom tucked in.

Diana keeps her pots interesting in the backyard too, like this blue starburst of a yucca entwined with chartreuse sweet potato vine.

More potted plants and colorful decor adorn her back porch.

Potted plants on a table by a window create a pretty view inside and out.

And there’s a comfy place to sit too. I love that little orange foo dog!

Diana may love color as much as I do.

A galvanized metal tray and fun potted plants jazz up a table display.

Diana is a total dog lover, and one even shows up in her garden decor.

Chocolatey red, orange, and yellow — plus a pumpkin — combine for a pretty fall container.

Just off the back porch, a shady pocket garden sits between a party-sized covered cabana and an outdoor kitchen — perfect for entertaining, which Diana and her husband enjoy doing. I didn’t get pictures of those spaces, which is ironic, because they’re where I’ve spent the most time in Diana’s garden. Next time!

I also didn’t get a photo of Diana’s lovely swimming pool — must have been too focused on the plants — but it’s the focal point of the cabana and the back porch. All around the pool and patio, Diana has planted an exuberant mix of tropical and subtropical plants for a lush, colorful garden that’s really at its peak in mid-summer. Here you see a burgundy-variegated banana, yellow bells, hibiscus, and mounds and mounds of lime-green sweet potato vine. The limestone steps lead down from the pool deck to the lower garden behind the pool.

Potted succulent in a cobalt pot surrounded by sweet potato vine

Bat-face cuphea (Cuphea llavea) adds red-hot color and cute little bat faces.

In the lower garden just outside a fence that keeps the deer out of her back yard, Mexican mint marigold (Tagetes lucida) blooms amid agaves and ornamental trees, with a neighbor-screening backdrop of evergreen junipers behind them.

Whale’s tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia), one of my faves

‘Sharkskin’ agave — one I covet but don’t have a good spot for, with those stiff, dagger-sharp leaves

Fading hibiscus flower, lovely even past peak

The dangling, tubular flowers of Iochroma ‘Royal Queen’ remind me of chandelier earrings.

I think of hibiscus as Diana’s signature plant because she has several varieties and often posts pictures of their salad-plate-sized flowers. They add such a tropical look to her garden, even though they are winter hardy.

Duranta aglow with dangling yellow fruits — the golden dewdrops that give this plant its common name.

From the pool patio, a new flagstone path winds through the lawn to a new rose garden that Diana is working on (no pics, since it’s currently a work in progress, and Diana will, I’m sure, do a big reveal on her own blog), as well as to her vegetable garden and greenhouse. Planting pockets built into the path allow heat-loving portulaca to add colorful bouquets along the walk.

Looking back along the portulaca path toward the pool cabana and surrounding garden

A large greenhouse is tucked behind a scrim of annual cosmos and hardy lion’s tail (Leonotis leonurus). The family vegetable garden is visible at left, behind a fence swathed in cypress vine, which keeps out two active dogs.

Self-sowing annual cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) has even twined onto the veggie-garden gate, but it still opens just fine.

Dainty, tubular red flowers and ferny foliage are signature qualities of cypress vine. It can be an aggressive self-seeder in the right conditions, but in my own garden it didn’t return.

Beautiful artichoke foliage

And back into the front garden, along the side of the house, flowery senna (Senna corymbosa) was awash in golden blooms.

Cool purple spires of Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) make the senna glow even brighter.

My thanks to Diana for letting me photograph her garden, and for sharing it so generously over the years!

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10 Responses

  1. You have crafted a lovely tour of my garden, including many angles and perspectives that I haven’t photographed! We have certainly spent a lot of time together, enjoying these spaces through the years. Thanks for your gracious post.

  2. Kris P says:

    I enjoyed this tour of Diana’s garden as it shows aspects I’ve never seen on her blog. (Diana, you must remedy that! I look forward to seeing the rose garden reveal when it’s ready for prime time.) I loved the Strobilanthes/Carex mix and would be very tempted to copy it if Persian Shield was happier in my garden. I liked a lot of the little touches too, like that foot rest made from a shipping crate.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      That Persian shield and Sparkler sedge mix is one I’d love to copy too. I find Persian shield is a little thirstier than I have the patience for, but maybe up close to the hose… —Pam

  3. Wow, what a wonderful post about a garden I thought I knew but evidently not. Diana your garden is gorgeous! I had to sigh at the mounds of sweet potato vine. That would never work here as the slugs would skeletonize those leaves over night.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Her sweet potato vines really are a triumph. It’s hard to find many plants with chartreuse foliage here in central Texas, but that’s one we can use if willing to water — and Diana is willing to put in hand-watering time for the area around her pool patio. The outer areas of her garden are more xeric and low maintenance. —Pam

  4. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I have thoroughly enjoyed your photo tour of Diana’s garden. It seems like a different garden than the one I have watched evolved over the years. Simply beautiful so lushly planted and lovely tended.

  5. Such fascinating plant combinations here, many new to me. I wouldn’t have guessed the Cuphea would winter over – or does Diana grow it as an annual? Likewise I would think the Sago Palm would need to be lifted over winter. Thanks, Pam, for the tour of Diana’s bountiful and beautiful garden!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Hi Jane. Sago palms are fully winter hardy here, although on rare occasion we’ll have a freeze that’s hard enough to brown all the leaves, essentially defoliating them. When that happens, they look pretty sad for a while but put out new growth in spring. Cigar plant cuphea is pretty reliable here. I find bat-face cuphea is less so, but Diana’s house sits up on a hill, which makes her garden less susceptible to hard freezes than others in Austin. —Pam

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