Austin Open Days Tour 2010: Utility Research Garden

‘Sharkskin’ agave and ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave at the Utility Research Garden

The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Austin tour was held yesterday, with 6 private gardens open to the public. My first stop was the ambiguously named Utility Research Garden, which I imagined to be an experimental garden at a public utility. Instead I discovered an eclectic, playful, somewhat shaggy contemporary garden surrounded by a compound of east-side bungalows, a large greenhouse, and one Airstream trailer.

A resident artist was positioning a few pieces around the garden when I arrived. This is one of them.

The owner is a wholesale grower of bamboo, palms, and agave. I saw lots of bamboo for sale, as well as dyckias, but no agaves on this day.

A gorgeous dyckia in a rusty container

Pines are pretty rare in Austin’s alkaline soil, but this garden has several beautiful specimens. This one seems to be propped up or decorated with long bamboo poles.

But this long-needled variety is my absolute favorite. No one could keep from touching it as they walked by.

A table constructed out of a gigantic saw blade stands nearby. Check out the stock-tank pond in the background. A number of man-made berms also add height and interest throughout the flat garden.

Gorgeous and deadly sharp ‘Sharkskin’ agave

Spider lilies bloom in a raised bed edged with Cor-Ten steel.

White-gravel paths cut through the bermed garden.

A birdhouse adds a little Texas charm to one of the compound’s bungalows.

A greenhouse dominates the main garden.

A new grass path leads the way to another building. A screen of bamboo lines one side of the path; newly planted agaves line the other.

The Airstream

A shady container holds a fern, and palm, and a few shiny, metal agave leaves.

I believe this is a blue nolina, a beautiful specimen.

Near the street, concrete walls shield a cycad-filled courtyard.

The property’s street number is displayed creatively on the front porch of one of the bungalows.

Circular cut-outs in the walls frame neighboring houses or passing cars.

Balancing act

Tune in tomorrow for images from East Side Patch, the second garden I toured during Open Days Austin.

All material © 2006-2010 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

14 Responses

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I see a lot of blue in these photos. A beautiful color for the garden. I like this contemporary look that isn’t also minimalist. What inspiration here.

  2. David C says:

    The name “Utility Research Garden” sounds so cool! Calls you to find out why…

    Great use of vertical elements (bamboo, etc) in contrast to growth and billowing plants (pines, etc). But again, you TX (Austin) folks turn me on with your ways of using plants and other elements. Both aesthetically eclectic and attractively incongruous! Thanks for taking around we who could not quite make it!

    David, see my answer to Loree’s comment below for an explanation of their name. —Pam

  3. This just looks like Pam Heaven. :) I personally love that bamboo lined area. But this entire post speaks of your region and its particular beauty. Thank you for sharing. xoxo

  4. Sheila says:

    Beautiful! I love that tree-trunk art piece!

  5. jenny says:

    I think I need to go back there. I didn’t see half the things you saw! You have such a great eye for choosing just the right shot. We did marvel at how we don’t know the half of what is going on in Austin and appreciated the chance to visit one of those gardens that you have no idea even exists.

    I know just what you mean, Jenny. There is a lot going on in the garden world of Austin. I’m continually surprised to discover new gardens and nurseries like this one. —Pam

  6. AngryRedhead says:

    The pics of pines makes me yearn badly for one!!!

  7. Love that raised bed with Cor-Ten steel. Also, the circles in the wall were a nice way to open up the wall while still providing lots of privacy and a noise barrier. Looking forward to ESP post too!

  8. Caroline says:

    “Somewhat shaggy” — now that’s something for my “weedy and overgrown” garden to aspire to! Thanks for letting me tag along through your photos.

    Shaggy in a good way! I thought this garden was interesting, and it looked like a garden that was really lived in, as opposed to one groomed within an inch of its life and mainly for looking at. —Pam

  9. Les says:

    I really like the look of this garden. Is the container with the bamboo in it designed to sink into the garden for growing bamboo?

    Hmm, good question, Les. I liked the look of it too and thought it was just a unique container. But maybe it IS meant to control a running bamboo. —Pam

  10. kat says:

    Hey, it’s me…Kat. I met you at Deborah Hornickel’s house! ;-) The Utility Research garden is the one mom and I had to skip due to time constraints; what a bummer. Thanks for sharing your pics and point of view. I had such a blast on Saturday, and I got so much inspiration.

    Hi, Kat. Thanks for commenting! It was a pleasure to meet you Saturday. Wasn’t the tour wonderful? You are right, it’s a great way to get inspired. —Pam

  11. Loree says:

    WOW! Every picture was a treat, how wonderful this garden must have been in person. Any clue as to where the unique name came from?

    Yes, they had a brochure available at the tour that explained, humorously, that “Utility” is for bamboo’s usefulness in blocking the “gaudy, brick Georgian going up next door,” providing “a levee strengthening root system for a New Orleans friend,” and for welcoming “a Chinese friend over (when it becomes obvious to you that they are the future).” “Research” is for the growers’ research they’re doing on their bamboo shoot farm and “tissue culture propagation of elite cultivars from overseas.” Check out the Utility Research Garden’s website for more info—and humor. —Pam

  12. […] to see my first stop on the Open Days tour, the Utility Research Garden, click […]

  13. It may be all about the bamboo at this very interesting place, Pam, but like you, the plant that I wanted was that incredibly long-needled lush evergreen/Pine… not that I could afford it or make it grow!

    The bamboo poles around the other pine intrigued us, too. They didn’t seem to touch or support any of the upper branches so we guessed they were decorative/representational.


    Thanks for the additional info about those bamboo poles, Annie. —Pam

  14. Mamaholt says:

    ARG!!! Why didn’t I go to this one!?!!? Looks just like what I love.