Tour of Deborah Hornickel garden

A pear allee is the highlight of Hornickel’s garden

Warm, accessible, personal, with striking plant choices and a Gardens-inspired feel, this Bryker Woods garden, located within walking distance of James David and Gary Peese’s famous garden shop, is Gardens on a budget. And I mean that as a compliment.

Deborah Hornickel acknowledges her debt to David’s style (he’s a friend of hers and advised her on portions of her garden, according to a feature in Cottage Living magazine), and she’s not afraid to divulge her tricks for getting this style on the cheap. Generously, she provided a handout explaining how she constructed her fish pond, stone dining table, and pear allee. Judging from the oohing and aahing I heard, I’d say this was one of the more popular gardens on the tour.

The sun was high by the time I got there, and my shadowed photos don’t do her garden justice. Actually, I don’t know whether she does her front garden justice either. Her (self-written?) entry in the Open Days Directory downplays the curb appeal by saying, “Don’t let the rough and natural appearance of the front garden fool you,” noting that the entry to the garden is at the end of the drive, in back of the house.

Well, I think her front garden has much to recommend it too. Formally clipped boxwoods mulched in pea gravel decorously escort visitors to the front door. But on either side of the sidewalk, the “rougher” part of the garden bursts out of that corset with colorful natives and tropicals like canna, Mexican bush sage, firecracker fern, firebush, agaves, and tall grasses in an exuberant jumble. Now here’s a gardener who loves plants!

She doesn’t stop at her front door either, lining a steel bench on the porch with potted succulents and pumpkins.

The gravel driveway is a scene-stealer. A hedge of amaranthus screens the neighbors and looks stunning paired with a line of Arizona cypresses. If only I had room for that combo in my garden.

Another angle. As a nice touch, generous bags of amaranthus seeds were on offer for a dollar at the ticket table.

I might be skeptical of Hornickel’s decision to use a Japanese maple (like azaleas, they don’t usually do well in Austin without a lot of pampering) if it didn’t look so darn good. The red fall foliage against the pale yellow of the house is pretty, and look at the English ivy trimmed neatly at its feet. Lovely.

A close-up of the Japanese maple’s red leaves—unusually bright fall foliage in Austin.

A narrow, covered passage between the garage and the house leads to this little sitting area. The playful blue bench under the Meyer lemon tree is one of the few shots of color in the rear garden.

This green, formal garden is bisected by a Bradford pear allee, strung with party lights, and bordered by a precisely rectangular “lawnette” on either side. I would love to see the allee in the springtime, covered in white blossoms.

As she explains in her handout, Hornickel planted the allee with 10 ($18) Bradford pears in 1991, measuring precisely for placement. By 1994 they were ready to be espaliered on the rebar frame a welder constructed for her.

At the end of the allee, pulling you along the path, a potted yew sits on an attractive limestone pedestal.

Behind the garage, an arbor draped by a sky vine shades a dining table. The mirror brightens the area and reflects candlelight beautifully, I imagine.

Sky vine (Thunbergia grandiflora)

Heading back toward the house you come to a Provencal-looking dining terrace. The crunching gravel underfoot, the lemon tree laden with fruit, the gorgeous, simple limestone-slab table—ahh, I could sit here a spell.

A bowl of shells and slag glass adorns the table.

Moroccan lantern and lemons

At the end of my tour of her garden, I found Deborah Hornickel holding court by the limestone table, thoroughly enjoying herself. It was nice to see the gardener in her element, having fun and making visitors feel welcome. I left with my head full of plant combinations and design elements I’d like to try someday.

Click here for my post about the Harris Boulevard garden. Tune in tomorrow for the Poth-Gill garden.

All material © 2006-2008 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

13 Responses

  1. Pam I must compliment you again on your excellent photography and presention of these wonderful Austin gardens. It is such a pleasure to be able to see them all.

    I wonder about the Citrus and the Thunbergia. I must have the wrong idea about how cold it can get there in the winter.

    The idea I come away with from this garden is how important the use of space is and the movement and connections through it. The rest of the garden just becomes attention to the details. The blue bench against the house says you don’t have to always have foundation plantings when the space can be put to better use.

    That Amaranth is amazing. Is it an annual or a perennial shrub?

    Thanks, Christopher. I’m glad you’re enjoying the tour. I had a wonderful time visiting these gardens and taking pictures of them, and the process of writing about them requires me to be thoughtful about what I liked and didn’t like. Good practice for my own gardening.

    Austin’s winter weather is so variable, depending on what part of town you’re in. Central Austin, where Hornickel’s garden (and mine) is located, stays warmer than the official weather station out by the airport. My garden typically experiences between three and five freezing nights each winter, usually just under 32 degrees, and rarely does it remain below freezing during the day. That said, Austin does occasionally have sudden hard freezes, the record being -2 degrees F in 1949. Hornickel’s rear garden faces west and is partially sheltered by her garage, which probably protects the limes lemons. The sky vine is a tender perennial here, and I believe the amaranthus is a self-seeding annual. —Pam

  2. You did get lovely photos, Pam! Wasn’t it fun to go to this garden! I’ve been to this lovely yellow house before, and was so glad to return. Deborah was friendly and gracious, answering questions from everyone. She talked about her citrus tree, saying it was a Meyer lemon, bought locally five years ago for $20. It did so well and grew so large as a container plant in the first year that she decided to try it outside. It’s always possible that it could freeze; there hasn’t been a terrible winter in those 5 years, and the tree has a very protected SW exposure. Christopher, the airport is in a flat area to the SE, but it’s also a lot colder as you go West into the canyons of the Hill Country. They get hard freezes when Austin stays in the mid-30’s. Central Austin must also have milder weather than up in the NW corner of Austin where I live- that Thunbergia was enormous!

    I heard people discussing the front garden, saying some of the shrubs were dwarf yaupons clipped like the boxwood. Pam, in order to balance my comment on symbols in the David garden, I’ll note the repetition of tunnel shapes in this one!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    I stand corrected on the lemon tree. Thanks for the info, Annie. I didn’t notice whether any of the clipped shrubs in front were yaupons, though that would have been cool. In the Cottage Living spread on her garden, it said they were a mix of English and Japanese boxwoods. I’ll have to take a closer look next time (I hope!).

    Your comment about the tunnels in this garden cracked me up. You’re right! —Pam

  3. ShellyB says:

    I am still kicking myself for not bringing a camera. Thank you so much for your pictures. Do you have more of the center island before the allee? I am having a hard time remembering what she had going on in there.

    I really liked her garden, especially the allee. Her house and garden are much more in the same scale as mine, so I felt like I could use more of her ideas than I could those from other places on the tour.

    I also loved the amaranthus along the drive. Wonder what she does “in between?” Is it bare, reserved only for that, or does she try to do something else while the amaranth are getting started or while they are dying? I love the idea of dedication of space for a bold annual statement. I did something similar with tithonia (but in a different kind of space) and while it is bare now, I wonder if I can have the discipline to keep it for that purpose only.

    If anyone went into the garage, did you see her potting bench? It was beautiful with a focus on use.

    Her garden had two things that I have seen a lot, but have never asked anyone else about. (I have been only gardening for a few years and only have a limited circle of gardening friends – mostly neighbors.)

    In the back there were several big trees or large shrubs planted fairly close together. I feel like I have had plant spacing requirements hammered into me too much – so much that I am very cautious about planting things (especially big things) too close together. But over and over I see plants put up next to each other or closer to the house than I would think to do. We have a neighbor that has a grove of live oaks that are not more than 3-4 feet apart and the effect is lovely. (Although I don’t think those were planted.) I am starting to think I am too timid. I really do like the layered look where you can see foliage against foliage. What are your thoughts on that?

    And the gravel as mulch. Does anyone else have that? It is a (somewhat) practical and contemporary statement, but we have a decomposed granite driveway area – and keeping it weed-free is killing me. Is it because our gravel isn’t deep enough? I have avoided landscape fabric under it, as I thought it would make the maintenance issue worse. Am I wrong? Do we just not leaf blow and weed kill enough? So far, I tend to wait until it rains and then I run out to pull weeds. Anyway have thoughts about that?

    Also – I loved her Japanese maple. We planted one before we knew better and it is lovely, but is struggling a bit. I thought hers looked the healthiest of all the ones I saw on tour. It did make me feel better that the David-Peese garden had a JM that looked worse than ours and I saw one other that also seemed to struggle. I guess a lesson to all of us, but I am not ready to give up on ours.

    I must have got there too late for the hand out. I am curious. Any chance you would scan it and email it? I picked up one from the Poth-Gill garden if you don’t have that one.

    Thanks again for this opportunity to share impressions about the gardens on the tour! And thanks to Deborah Hornickel for opening her garden. I felt like a sponge watching the segment on Central Texas Gardener on her garden a few weeks ago – she was down to earth and spoke realistically and practically about how she made the garden work.

    You’re welcome. I’m glad you’re enjoying the tour. I’ll try to figure out how to scan Hornickel’s handout and email it to you (if you get it, you’ll know I succeeded). I’d be glad to see Poth-Gill’s as well, since I didn’t get that one.

    I didn’t notice her screening shrubs and trees in back. But, yes, I do think it can work to plant trees closer together than guidelines suggest. A naturalistic clump will screen more readily than widely spaced trees, and it imparts a woodsy look to the edge of the garden. Of course, close planting will alter the natural shape of a tree, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, unless you lose one and you’re left with a lonely, leaning tree instead of two hugging trees. I say, go for it! Experiment. See what happens in one corner of the garden.

    I also like decomposed granite, and so many of these gardens use it as mulch or paths. My garden has a decomposed-granite path, and like you, I’m always trying to keep the weeds out. I installed landscape fabric underneath mine, but purslane just loves the top two inches of the granite and is extremely difficult to remove. I once asked Tom Spencer how he keeps all his granite pathways clear, and he said he uses a garden flamethrower. No kidding. —Pam

  4. […] Remember Deborah Hornickel’s cerulean bench beneath the lemon tree? I posted this photo from her garden tour back in October. […]

  5. Dawn says:

    Dear Pam,

    The photos of your Texas Mountain Laurel are lovely! I’m considering replacing the lone crepe myrtle in my little front garden with a Texas Mountain Laurel. I want to stick with plants that are either native or at least beneficial to the local birds, mammals and butterflies.

    Also love how you curved your front bed. I can see why you let your “roly-poly dwarf yaupons” remain. They do allow the eye to enjoy something during the winter months.

    BTW, since we’re new to this area we’ve used your list of nurseries as a sort of treasure map of places to visit on weekends. My husband, son and I really enjoy The Natural Gardener and Hill Country Water Gardens. We’ve found lots of great plants and even a lovely birdbath there. Thanks again for your extremely helpful and beautiful website. You certainly have my vote as best gardening blog. :-)

    Dawn in Austin

    Many thanks, Dawn! I’m glad to know that you’ve found my blog helpful as you become an Austin gardener. Thank you so much for visiting and for your very kind comments. —Pam

  6. […] Amaranthus and angel. Remember this plant from the Hornickle garden? I sure do. […]

  7. Craig Bennett says:

    ..”scan Hornickel’s handout and email it to you (if you get it, you’ll know I succeeded)”. If you succeeded I would really like a copy of her handout as well. Thank you!!

  8. […] Click here for my post about the Arth garden. Tune in tomorrow for the Hornickel garden. […]

  9. […] here for my post about the Hornickel garden. Tune in tomorrow for the Stone House Vineyard […]

  10. […] Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica) is not native to the Austin area, but it grows well here provided it has proper drainage and full sun. If you’ve driven by Central Market at the corner of N. Lamar and 35th St., you’ve seen a stand of these majestic, pyramidal conifers growing more beautiful with every year. The ones pictured above line the side yard of Deborah Hornickel’s central Austin garden. […]

  11. […] color! That fresh-cedar fragrance! I fell in love with this pyramidal tree while touring Deborah Hornickel’s garden in October 2006, when I took this photo. This conifer grows happily in limestone soils and needs […]

  12. […] of years ago, extending its footprint into her back garden, which you can see pre-remodel in my Open Days 2006 post about Deborah’s garden. Visiting post-remodel on Saturday’s Open Days tour, I found it to be more cleanly delineated […]

  13. […] allee can add a sense of intimacy in an open space. Deborah Hornickel planted an allee of Bradford pears and espaliered them to create a green tunnel that frames a view […]