Monday, May 28, 2018

What Is It About Austin Gardens?

Portal to one of Jenny Stocker's garden areas

The Austin Garden Bloggers Fling 2018 has flung. And what a time it was. I had such mixed emotions on this Fling. Austin is my former home and where I left my heart. I loved trying to see it through a first-timer's eyes. And I wept silently for the loss of so many soulful and unique aspects to Austin.

For a while I pondered what to write about the experience and finally settled on what I think defines the gardens we saw - they evoke a very confident sense of place and individualism. I hope to show you examples of both in this blog post.

A unique bottle tree in Donna Fowler's garden

Each garden, both public and private, was unique in its own way but one garden that strongly showcased the individual was Lucinda Hutson's garden. Lucinda's home and garden reflect her abiding love for Mexico.

Lucinda Hutson's home in the Rosedale neighborhood

She LOVES color and although her flowers are colorful, it's her use of color on objects that keeps her homestead lively through all seasons.

Part of the vegetable garden in Lucinda's yard

Near the entrance to Lucinda's tequila cantina

Lucinda's garden makes me want to sit down, put my feet up, sip a tequila drink (a traditional margarita would be my favorite), and while away the time asking Lucinda about her travels to Mexico.

A vignette in Pam Penick's garden

Pam Penick's blog Digging was one of the first blogs I ever read and probably what inspired me to start blogging (that and having the time after getting laid off in 2008!). I've visited her garden multiple times and each time I find it so reflective of Pam. Her design sense is strong and she smartly contains her plantings to what will do well in her growing conditions. And she loves a little whimsy as well.

B. Jane's front yard with prickly pear (Opuntia sp.), whale's tongue agave (A. ovatifolia), and silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea)

Austin gardeners embraced the xeriscape garden movement many years ago and it's wonderful to see the great variety of plants that are now available in the nurseries there (envious!). Though some of the nursery plants are ones that have adapted readily to the heat and occasional (frequent?) droughts in the area, others are natives that can be found by simply driving into the Hill Country or farther west.

Mexican feather grass (Nasella tenuissima) and wildflowers in Tait Mooring's garden

The native and adapted plants evoke that sense of place I mentioned in the beginning. There were few fussy plants here. I know from experience that most of them are hard-working, sink-or-swim ones.

Jenny Stocker's English-style garden

Case in point is Jenny Stocker's exuberant garden (only a little bedraggled from a Texas-sized gullywasher!). Her plants, such as Indian blanket, cacti, and ornamental grasses, evoke the cottage garden exuberance of her native England but with sensible plants for Austin.

The deer-prone exterior of Jenny's garden

Southern maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris) in Zilker Park. This fern is common on the limestone cliffs of the Texas Hill Country. I try to grow some each year in homage to the area.

For me, the plant that spoke Austin was the escarpment live oak, Quercus fusiformis. This is one of those plants that I took for granted when I lived there. Yet this time I was seeing it with fresh eyes.

View of the Austin skyline from Ruthie Burris' garden, framed by the ubiquitous live oaks

Live oak in a field outside Johnson City

You've got to be one tough plant to make it and thrive in Austin. The aloes, agaves, and other drought-tolerant plants that dot the Austin landscape are great but relative newcomers. The escarpment live oak is the one that's been there for a while. There's nothing like driving country roads and seeing a majestic live oak in a field. What kind of stories could it tell?

I had a wonderful time at the Austin Fling and feel so lucky to have attended nine (nine!) Flings so far. I've made some great friends whom I wish I could see more frequently. I hope to see you next year when the Fling goes to Denver!

This post was written by Jean McWeeney for my blog Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog. Copyright 2018. Please contact me for permission to copy, reproduce, scrape, etc.


  1. What a wonderful post, Jean! It so fully captured your emotional connection with Austin. This was such a great fling - everything was perfect...even the "gullywasher" as it's moments like those that make for the best stories. One question though - are you some sort of sorceress?? I'm amazed by the lack of bodies - or hands/feet/heads - in your photos :)

    1. Haha, Margaret! Maybe it’s because I didn’t take that many pictures!

  2. Thanks, Jean, for a perfect post about the Fling in Austin. Although my memories of Austin are more from childhood through college, your thoughts about the wonderful gardens we visited, combined with sadness about what’s been lost - it captures my experience of a wonderful Fling, combined with a visit to my old hometown.

  3. I saw our live oaks with fresh eyes too, thanks to the many comments about them from the bloggers. It's funny how things you take for granted can seem so remarkable to a visitor.

  4. Lovely post Jean. I like your use of the word individualism - that was one of my take home lessons; not to be afraid of making the garden your own. Hope to see you soon in England :)

  5. Jean, this is absolutely poetic and heartwarming! And your pictures are fabulous!

  6. Lovely Austin wrap-up/overview — and now I want to go back!

  7. Loved your very informed vantage point in this post as a former resident -- thank you!

  8. I can understand why you'd have mixed emotions about this Fling if Austin was so special for you. And I can see why. Austin definitely exceeded my expectations--in many ways. I agree about the Oaks--they feel wise and natural and strikingly beautiful. I didn't realize Austin would be so green--and the Live Oaks are a big part of it. Great post!


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