Austin Open Days Tour 2010: David-Peese garden


Like a contemporary fairy-tale cottage, the home of James David and Gary Peese is glimpsed through the embrace of the surrounding garden: a fascinating, wow-inducing, richly planted—and richly hardscaped—yet intimate and surprisingly unpretentious garden. This was my final stop on last Saturday’s Open Days garden tour.


James is a landscape architect and plantsman who founded the now-defunct Gardens and who chairs the Garden Conservancy‘s Open Days program. His partner Gary is also his partner at David/Peese Design. Both were on hand at mid-afternoon when I toured their garden, asking each guest if he or she was doing OK and answering questions. Pictured above is their sunny entry garden, anchored by a ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave (A. ovatifolia) and a topiary pomegranate tree.


Another look at the ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave


To the left, a woodland garden is planted with an understory of palms (Sabal minor?) and holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum). Sunlight beams in through an opening in the tree canopy.


Coral vine (Antigonon leptopus) drapes from the trees, reaching for the light. This vine is so beautiful all over Austin right now.


Among an informal yet carefully arranged container display at the front door, this grassy-looking plant caught my eye. Is it a Nolina?


I love the dangling prickly pear (Opuntia) in this one.


Gorgeous combo! The leaves look like coleus, but they’re growing like a vine across the boxwood. Anyone have an ID? Update: Cissus discolor, or Rex Begonia Vine. Thanks for the ID, Joseph!


A stone arrangement in the woodland garden


Their garden is built on a steeply sloping lot, so limestone steps figure prominently in the design.


A frosty looking Dyckia


James and Gary favor narrow paths through much of their garden. This area is the narrowest of all: a geometric design of diagonal, straight-line paths through waist-high, clipped boxwood. Most visitors hesitate before walking through, unsure whether these are meant to be used. You feel almost as if you’re wading through water, or like Moses parting the Red Sea. Your hips brush the shrubbery on either side, and you hold up your arms to keep them clear. It’s fun to walk through. And look how the center line (a little wider) frames that olive jar.


This sweet, delicate vine twined through a Texas mountain laurel.


Gary keeps chickens in this charmingly rustic coop. The silkies got the most attention from visitors.


But I only got pictures of these. He’s a handsome fellow, isn’t he?


A dovecote anchors one end of a long, narrow dining terrace just below the house. The string lights run the length of the terrace.


Flowers do not play a starring role in James and Gary’s garden. It’s all about foliage and texture. But flowers do pop up as accents throughout the garden, including these yellow spider lilies (Lycoris chinensis).


Below the dining terrace appears the defining image of their garden: a long, straight limestone stair bordered by ‘Will Fleming’ yaupons and bisected by a rill running down to a large pond at the base of the steps.


A longer view


There’s that little girl again! She and her family toured the gardens in roughly the same order as I did (I snapped her picture at East Side Patch), and she was always in good spirits. I was impressed by her stamina and her sartorial style.


Mexican sycamore canopy at the base of the hill, turning golden yellow


Its bark is fabulously colored too.


A wider view of the Mexican sycamores. The wooden boardwalk (no handrails make for an adventurous touring experience here and elsewhere throughout the garden) crosses a wet-weather garden; to its right is the pond at the base of the limestone steps with the rill.


A large greenhouse stood largely empty at this time of year, but a limestone shelf of cactus outside shows what plant collectors these guys are.


In the newest section of their garden, a rock-filled gabion wall supports a steel pipe that sends water splashing into a rectangular pond.


From above


A gravel garden is planted nearby, with columnar cacti, sotols, and agave. Doesn’t this one look googly-eyed?


Near the house, a vine-covered arbor is illuminated by the afternoon sun.


A pyramidal, galvanized-metal shed, with boxwoods clipped to match, adds yet another beautiful structure to the garden.

Long-time readers may remember my earlier posts about this magnificent garden:
October 2006 Open Days tour of the David-Peese garden
October 2008 Open Days tour of the David-Peese garden (scroll down; it’s the third garden in that post).
I also visited, but did not take photographs, during the first Garden Bloggers Spring Fling in April 2008, when James and Gary generously gave our group a personal tour. You’ll find many attendees’ posts about the garden listed there.

For a look back at the other gardens on this year’s Open Days tour, click here for a link to the Jones garden. You’ll find links to the other gardens I toured at the end of each post.

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

20 Responses

  1. Wow – so much inspiration to be found here! I’ll be bookmarking this to come back to…great documentation of a gorgeous garden!

  2. Wow…so much “green” and such incredible variation in forms by space and elevation. Very nice to see as a desert person!

  3. Just beautiful! Thank you so much for this wonderful week of posts…I can’t believe you visited all these gardens in just one day!

  4. Love it! My favorite of the batch. I love the narrow paths you squeeze through, and the mix of formal and informal elements.
    The vine on the boxwood is a Cissus discolor, the Rex Begonia Vine. I know it as a lovely but difficult house plant… it might be hardy for you?

    Thanks for that ID, Joseph. I looked it up online, and one reference says it’s hardy to zone 11. So nope, it won’t be hardy here in zone 8b, alas. —Pam

  5. Cyndy says:

    Hi Pam, I’ve been following your wonderful open days posts, and this one is the best of the best! How wonderful that the owners were there – I love meeting the people who make such fabulous outdoor spaces.

  6. Denise says:

    Thank goodness someone ID’d that begonia vine! What a beautiful fall tour you’ve taken us on. Those celestory windows and carefully manicured eyebrow arches on the house prompted me to make tear sheets of magazine photos of this amazing house long ago, before I knew whose house and garden it belonged to. I loved the ESP garden tour as well; his plantsmanship really shines through. I’d love to see Austin in the fall festooned with that coral vine! For some unknown reason it’s rarely grown here in So. Calif.

  7. Donna says:

    Thanks for the tour. You have visited some really fine garden spaces this week. Your photos were very nice and gave us a glimpse of some well designed gardens. I really liked the feel of this garden and would not be able to say that had you photos been not as good as they are, the stairs and water shots especially..

  8. Jodi says:

    Your beautiful photography makes me feel as if I was back in this amazing garden…and there I am! (you caught a picture of my friend and I peeking in the Dovecote!) How lovely it was to meet you and get the chance to express, in person, how much your blog and photos have inspired me. It was a wonderful day and it has been fun to revisit these gardens through your photos! :-)

    Jodi, it was so nice to meet you and your friend. Thanks for saying hi and introducing yourself! It’s always a treat to meet a “lurker.” :-) —Pam

  9. Sheila says:

    Beautiful and inspiring! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Gail says:

    It’s as wonderful as I remember, with a few delightful additions! The gabion wall and fountain is fantastic. My favorite tree is the sycamore~The bark is spectacular and the tree always looks good against the blue sky! Thank you for the sweet reminder of Austin Spring Fling! gail

  11. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    This garden is the big WOW to me. I don’t remember reading how big it is but it seems huge. So many beautiful focal points are plants. It would take me ages to walk through. That little girl that kept popping into your photos looked to be fully enjoying each garden. She reminds me of garden fairies.

    It’s pretty big, Lisa—about 2 acres. —Pam

  12. Kathleen says:

    I could be happy never leaving this property Pam. It has everything I’ve ever wanted ~ greenhouse, chicken coops, beautiful home, pond, etc., etc. This is a garden you would never tire of visiting, that’s for sure.

  13. Based on my comment to your Jones Garden post, some people may think I’m just cranky about big expensive gardens. That’s not the case at all as I tried to explain in my own post. I think the real difference comes from how much of oneself one puts into the garden. This garden is both personal and celebratory. It’s infused with excitement and enthusiasm, humor and mystery. It’s grand without being oppressive and playful without being too silly or cute. Not only is it my favorite garden in Austin, I think it’s my favorite place in Austin.

  14. Ann says:

    I love every time you do a post on this garden, Pam. It’s such a cool place and your photos really give a sense of the spaces within it. My only question… how large is the property? How do all these cool spaces fit together? Why am I always out of town the weekend of the garden tour?

    The garden is about 2 acres and built on a steep hillside. The entry garden, embroidery garden (see my previous post, which I linked to), narrow boxwood paths, formal lawn (pictured in previous post), and house are built at the street level. Just below the back of the house, from left to right, are the chickens, the dovecote, the dining terrace, a vine-covered arbor, and the metal, pyramidal shed. The grand stair with the rill descends from the dining terrace and stops at the lowest level of the garden. The large pond and the wet-weather creek with the Mexican sycamores can be found here. Ascending a shorter stair past the pond (not pictured), you find a lap pool, the greenhouse, and access to the boardwalk. Moving through the newer section of the garden, you ascend a stair to the new pond with the pipe fountain. Keep climbing back to street level and you see the house again, as well as a new garage/office.

    You really need to see it, Ann. It’s a fascinating garden. —Pam

  15. Daphne says:

    Thanks for a wonderful post, Pam. Lovely to see this garden, since I didn’t get to complete the tour and see it in person.

  16. I am speechless! I realize they are garden designers but this is a real tour de force. I am fantasizing what it must be like to live in the midst of it. I am rethinking the width of a path I was going to put it thanks to this post. And I did not know there was a vining version of rex begonia. Going to have to search that out. Wonderful post and lucky you to get to see it in person.

  17. ohmyGOSH, Pam! What a treat to read this post tonight! The photos are just gorgeous – lucky, lucky you to have toured such a garden! I’m beginning to think Texas has the most beautiful gardens around, clearly rivaling California!

  18. Nicole says:

    What a fabulous garden! We are putting in our garden now in the new house so I am on the lookout for inspirational photos/posts.

  19. David says:

    Hi Pam,
    I’ve always wanted to see more of this garden! Thanks for all the photos. I’ve seen this garden in a garden book, but your images capture more of a gardener’s perspective. Garden books and magazines are so limited on space. Happy Fall. :-) David/Tropical Texana

  20. […] of pink-and-white amaryllis shines the brighter for the lush, green surroundings. She told me that James David had a hand in designing this garden a few years […]

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