Plant This: Texas persimmon

One of my favorite small trees for winter interest is Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana), which occurs naturally in central and south Texas but is found as far east as Houston and as far west as Big Bend National Park. This picture, which I took at a client’s house yesterday, shows why you’d want it in your garden: just look at those milky white, muscular trunks and branches! They attract attention all year but really stand out during our quieter winters, when gray-green and tan are the dominant hues. I like how these homeowners have planted deep-green rosemary beneath their stand of persimmons, offering a nice contrast with the white trunks.

In my own garden, I inherited a number of Texas persimmons, several of which are growing in cracks between huge slabs of limestone. This is, as you can see, a tough, drought-tolerant tree. Growth is slow, and so it’s probably priced higher than faster-growing trees at the nursery. Give it well-drained soil and full sun to part sun.

I think Texas persimmon looks best pruned up into a multi-trunked small tree, like a crepe myrtle, the better to show off the white trunks and branches. Unlike a crepe myrtle, however, Texas persimmon lacks showy, colorful flowers, and its leathery, small leaves aren’t much to write home about either. It’s really all about the bark and shapely limbs.

Texas persimmon is described as semi-evergreen. In Austin some trees drop their leaves in winter (like the ones pictured at top) and others, like mine, simply thin out and then drop their leaves in late winter, with only a month of bare branches before the new leaves appear. Others, especially further south, hold onto their leaves all winter and only drop them as the new leaves come in, just as live oaks do.

The small black fruit (about 1 inch diameter), which appears in early fall, occurs only on female trees. All my trees are male, apparently, because I never see any of the dark, berry-like persimmons, which are edible and also a favorite of wildlife. That’s fine with me, since my biggest Texas persimmon hangs partially over our pool. Update 8/15: One of the trees does actually produce fruit, so I know it’s female.

So if you need a 10-15 ft. tree for a hot, sunny spot with rocky soil, or even a well-drained spot with some clay and some shade, try Texas persimmon. Look for it at Barton Springs Nursery, the Natural Gardener, or the Wildflower Center’s spring native-plant sale.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Garden of Sprout-owner Jackson Broussard: Austin Open Days Tour 2017

For landscape architect Jackson Broussard of Sprout, you really can go home again. He was raised in this modest ranch house in east-central Austin, and after he took ownership he freshened up the house and leased it out and built himself a detached, two-story addition in the back yard. The front garden is enjoyed by his tenants, with a formal but quirky front walk and a semi-screened patio up by the house.

Jackson has an eye for cast-off materials that make interesting architectural accents or can be used in mosaic stonework in the garden. He uses old bricks and pieces of stone and metal to cloak board-formed concrete towers or pedestals, like the square blocks lining the front walk. An arbor of 4 Bradford pears is being trained on metal rebar into an arched tunnel over the path, à la Deborah Hornickel’s garden.

Mosaic stonework (with metal plates and bricks) on one of the pedestal blocks along the path. Notice the two metal toy cars embedded in this one.

Here’s the view from the gravel driveway, with the airy lavender blooms of Russian sage in the foreground. A curved boxwood hedge is one of those quirky details that disrupts the linearity of the front walk.

Within the curved hedge, a perfect mirror of water cradled by a chunk of basalt reflects the sky. It’s unusual to see basalt here in Texas, although it’s common in gardens in the Pacific Northwest. I believe Jackson told me he acquired this and other pieces in California via China.

From the driveway looking toward the front porch and patio, with exquisite details like the lavender-filled terracotta pot sitting atop a circular limestone pedestal on a steel table. Dusty mauve ghost plant faintly echoes the lavender’s purple, and a terracotta tile with star design echoes the lavender’s pot. The pastel paint on the patio’s wood-slat chairs picks up the soft colors.

Such a sweet little spot to hang out, with extra seating provided by a low concrete wall.

A steel porch post is etched with the house number. A collection of potted plants disguises the gas meter.

A woven steel gate around the side of the house offers access.

For added privacy, and presumably to reduce the view of neighboring cars, a cattle panel trellis supports an evergreen vine — star jasmine, I think — along the property line.

A gigantic block of wood makes a rustic yet modern bench.

Access to Jackson’s house in the backyard is through an open-sided carport, which he’s turned into a hangout space with a buffet table, a large mirror to reflect light, and a long seating table (not visible). Interesting scrap metal and architectural remnants adorn the buffet.

Mosaic wall detail along the driveway

As you enter the back garden, you see two board-formed concrete columns that Jackson is gradually finishing with a mosaic of stone and brick. A low wall in front displays succulents in terracotta pots.

There’s a narrow path through here to Jackson’s back door. Or maybe it’s the front door.

A low boxwood hedge leads the eye along the path…

…to a pretty cluster of potted plants. Notice how he elevates some of them on plinths, plus there’s a second, smaller basalt water vessel.

Architectural and frog details and a single bulb in a square pot

Looking back, there are more potted succulents on this side of the wall.

Potted agave with stones and turtle

Speaking of turtles, check out this spigot handle!

At right of the low wall…

…a sliding steel-and-rebar gate offers entry to the back garden, with an olive tree standing sentry.

A tall curving hedge separates the main house (and its windows) from Jackson’s personal space out back. A tiny pot of succulents is the finial on a pedestal, and an iron rooster struts atop a round steel plinth in front of the hedge.

The rear garden is laid out along a diagonal, which makes the small space feel larger as it draws your eye along the longest possible axis. A deck runs along the house to a gravel patio with a fire pit, and a newly sodded lawn offers access to a swinging bench under a shade tree.

A steel arbor marks the doorway into the back patio, where a custom BBQ grill stands ready for cookouts.

An old bell on top of the arbor can be rung by pulling on a chain. Dinnertime!

A coyote fence of cut cedar posts (native juniper, actually, but we call it cedar around here) gives privacy from neighboring yards and adds a natural rusticity.

In a swath of mondo grass, a cylinder of steel mesh makes an architectural accent alongside a Japanese maple and strappy-leaved potted plant (crinum? amaryllis?).

The elevated deck is angled not only along the long edge but at the end too, where it accesses the fire-pit patio. A skinny picnic table echoes these diagonal lines with a triangle of faded red paint on top. A board-formed concrete pond sits half on and half off the deck, cattycorner to the house.

Water pours into the pond from an old fire-hose nozzle. A small block in front gives a boost to Jackson’s young niece when she wants to visit the goldfish. Planted directly in the gravel patio is a young sycamore tree (Mexican sycamore?). A teddy-bear-like potted pine sits next to it. If you’re wondering about all of Jackson’s wonderful terracotta pots, he imports them from Italy and sells them once or twice a year in a flash sale.

Motel chairs painted a dusty seafoam green surround a fire pit made from a steel pipe remnant. A concrete BBQ grill holds firewood in its base.

Another beautiful steel gate offers access to a small field or park space behind Jackson’s house.

An old container with a handle holds water for a tiny bog pond.

A closer look at the pond, which was a magnet for everyone who visited. It makes a nice spot to sit too.

Industrial-style steel pipe fountain with fire-hose nozzle

A two-story airy screened porch contains a hammock for lounging sans mosquitoes and a small table and chairs.

No space goes unused in Jackson’s garden, including the narrow strip behind the screened porch. A persimmon laden with orange fruit leads the eye to a steel post with a birdhouse on top. Along the porch foundation, a huge chain adds another industrial touch.


Perfectly timed for the tour

Birdhouse post (notice the two little birds at the base), with a giant hesperaloe tucked in the corner

And around the corner, even the working space and firewood storage is beautiful. A clean-lined outdoor shower in the foreground has wood-slat siding spaced for privacy at the bottom, with wider spacing above (you can tell it’s built for a man — ha!). A steel window looks out at the garden.

I’m sure the scrolled ironwork of the gate that leads to the shower has a history.

Ferns sprout from the mosaic paving inside the shower.

A quick peek at Jackson’s potting bench and work area

And a last look at that teddy-bear pine (this is my name for it, mind you; I didn’t get the ID) and fire-pit patio. One more thought about the gravel patio, deck, and mondo grass groundcover: they allow Jackson to shrink the lawn to just the size he needs it to be, which saves water and effort. (I talk more about this concept in my book Lawn Gone!)

A couple of my touring companions, Cat and Diana, looking pretty blissed out at our first stop of the Open Days tour, sponsored by The Garden Conservancy.

Terracotta flowers holding down Jackson’s business cards and brochures — so many thoughtful details in this garden!

And here’s Jackson himself, looking cool as a cucumber and not at all like he sweated his butt off getting his garden perfect for the tour. Surely it doesn’t look this perfect all the time…does it?? No, it probably does. :)

Thanks for sharing it with us, Jackson!

Up next: The Cloverleaf Drive Garden with a green-roof shed designed by Casey Boyter.

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.

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Calling all garden bloggers! You’re invited to register for the annual Garden Bloggers Fling tour and meetup, which will be held in Austin next May 3-6, 2018! Click this link for information about registering, and you can see our itinerary here. Space is limited, so don’t delay. The 2018 Fling will be the event’s 10th anniversary, which started in Austin in 2008.

Join the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks! Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by inspiring designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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.

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

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

Join the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks! Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by inspiring designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.