During the past week of 100-degree days, I enjoyed a twice-daily visit to Switch Willo Stables in northwest Austin, where my daughter attended a riding day camp. What a beautiful, lush oasis tucked away in a neighborhood that nowadays is practically in-town.
When Switch Willo opened back in 1963, it would have been on the far north side of town, and the surrounding homes were probably just a twinkle in some developer’s eye. Today its handsome brick and wooden stables, tree-shaded grounds, colorful flower beds filled with bright annuals and native and semi-tropical perennials provide an Old World-meets-Mexico ambience that I find irresistible.
After obtaining permission to take photos for my blog, I spent one sultry morning strolling the grounds and exploring, introducing myself to several of the charming occupants boarded here.
Accustomed only to dusty, old paddocks in national parks for the little riding I’ve done, I find the lushly planted grounds at Switch Willo to be half the attraction. Clearly someone spends a lot of time grooming and watering. Much of the watering is done by hand, as I witnessed on my visits.
This lovely area near the camp house leads up to a bathing and brushing area. Sadly, a small pond tucked to the right of the steps has been drained or has a leak, but this garden is an oasis nonetheless. ‘Radrazz’ Knockout roses play off the burgundy leaves of the ornamental tree behind them. Large boulders give the garden structure. And the pruned evergreen pittosporums at the top of the steps invite you up to see what’s under the arbor.
The arbor shades horses and their groomers with a ceiling of what I believe are mustang grapevines. How appropriate!
The grounds also contain classical statuary, like this Diana the huntress, set amid a red-berried holly hedge with tropical-looking loquat behind and acuba (gold-dust plant) and purple heart at her feet.
Carvings adorn the stone entry gate.
As do twin lions, one on each side.
Lions seem to be a theme, as I found another on this dry fountain tucked into an alcove of the brick stable.
Several more ornament this tiered fountain.
But horses, not lions, are what this place is all about, and every stall I passed contained a long, curious face.
This one is called Strawberry. Isn’t he sweet?
This lovely, pink-flowering vine grows at the entry to the camp house. I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps a mandevilla?
This shady bed mingles ferns, tropical foliage, and a few red begonias. It reminds me of Florida.
Dainty in appearance but tough-as-nails ruellia (Mexican petunia) grows here in soil-filled pockets of limestone boulders.
A sunny bed relies on tough, colorful plants like yellow bells, lantana, and salvias.
A handsome entry gate, hung with potted ferns, leads to another stable.
With the blazing mid-morning sun overhead, the receding empty doorways of these stalls reminded me of one of de Chirico’s paintings. Yep, I still remember a smidge of my art history.
No wonder I like this place, with all these vibrant red flowers.
Though I’ve only just gotten to know Switch Willo, I already feel a certain nostalgia for the place. By Austin standards, Switch Willo is downright venerable, and it seems a hidden treasure amid the busy rush-hour traffic of north Austin. The legions of girls (and a few boys) who ride here must surely treasure their memories of the place too. I hope it remains so for a long time to come.
All material Â© 2006-2008 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.