austin garden tour

on saturday may 9th, the lady bird johnson wildflower center hosted a garden tour of six private and public gardens in austin.  i couldn’t think of a better reason to visit my favorite texan town (but then again, there’s sooo many good reasons to go there…) so i grabbed my sunblock, camera, gps and threw in a swim suit just in case.

tour stop number one: the lbjwc, “the nation’s premiere collection of texas native plants… one of only three public gardens nationally that exclusively feature native wildflowers, trees, grasses and shrubs.”

laser cut stainless steel entrance sign to lbjwc
laser cut stainless steel entrance sign to lbjwc

i must admit i didn’t get many images of the overall gardens (sorry!), but got some up close photos of plant combos i liked.  this one was particularly striking with reflected light shining on it:

Nassella tenuissima and Dichondra argenta
Nassella tenuissima (mexican feather grass) and Dichondra argenta (silver pony foot)

i must’ve liked their signage (or i’m a big landscape architecture geek – yes, la’s design signage, among other things…), because here’s another example:

garden signage that's clear, descriptive and unique
garden signage that's clear, descriptive and unique

tour stop number two: 5801 kempson drive, designed by jennifer schaffer at mariposa natural gardens.  the homeowners of this suburban lot convinced their builder to retain half of the existing woodland vegetation so they could clean it up for a “woodland retreat.”  they also incorporated limestone slabs, excavated on site, into xeric landscape terraces.  the plant list focused on drought-tolerant texas natives.

view from back porch: xeric garden (left) and woodland retreat (right)
view from back porch: xeric garden (left) and woodland retreat (right)

while they had turfgrass in the front yard to blend into the neighbors yards, they didn’t have any in the backyard.  why?  because there’s better, more diverse, less water demanding and beautiful things to plant:

Sage, Salvia and Nassella with granite gravel mulch
Leucophyllum (texas sage), Salvias, Yucca and Nassella
view of the woodland retreat from elevated back porch
view of the woodland retreat from elevated back porch
Nassella dot the granite gravel path toward the elevated porch
Nassella dot the granite gravel path toward the elevated porch

tour stop number three: 518 buckeye trail.  this five acre, topographically interesting west lake hills residence was designed by land restorationist jill nokes, constructed and installed by pedro sanchez (psp landscape), and is maintained orgaincally by julie clark (stronger than dirt).  this high end, residential landscape had many well-constructed details that were complimented by an extensive native and adaptive plant palette:

view from courtyard toward main entrance.  another appearance by Nassella...
view from courtyard toward main entrance. greenscreen trellis. more Nassella...
a kid-friendly landscape softened by Bouteloua dactyloides (buffalo grass)
a kid-friendly landscape softened by Bouteloua dactyloides (buffalo grass)
view looking down toward fenced vegetable garden
view looking down toward fenced vegetable garden

unofficial tour stop number four: barton springs nursery.  my friend lynn told me i must, must, must go here, as it was the first nursery she came across (when she was lucky enough to live here…) that provided texas native plants to the retail crowd.  while i refrained from buying anything (not even a $0.79 fescue) i saw lots of plants that i was admiring throughout the tour, some that might even survive in b/cs .  i just didn’t want to risk baking them in the car during the remainder of the field trip.  i’ll be back…

tour stop number five: the lower colorado river authority’s wilkerson center at redbud, 3601 lake austin blvd.  this public garden was designed by j. robert anderson landscape architects.  the building is LEED gold certified, has a four-star sustainability rating from the austin energy green building program, and has received the texas rain catcher award from the texas water development board.  sustainable sites initiative:  is this one of your case studies, because it should be!  for those of you with an interest in water conservation, rainwater harvesting and/or rain gardens, you must visit this garden:

panoramic view of lcra landscape
panoramic view of lcra landscape

the interactive water feature, designed to represent the flow of the colorado river with its systems of dams and reservoirs, offers an interesting educational element at the lcra:

view from the "top" of the colorado river watershed, looking downstream
view from the "top" of the colorado river watershed, looking downstream
interactive water feature with topo model
nice granite topo model with stainless steel buildings

the “interactive” part of the water feature were water controls that people could try to alter the “precipitation rate” (sprinklers coming out from the side of the fountain) and to open/close the gates of the dam:

view from the "bottom" of the colorado watershed, looking upstream.  the folks working the water controls work at barton springs nursery - so nice to meet you!
view from the "bottom" of the colorado watershed, looking upstream. the folks testing the water controls work at barton springs nursery - so nice to meet you!

the heat must’ve been getting to me, because i didn’t get many up-close images of the gardens themselves… (i know, what was i thinking?  i blame the fountain for stealing the limelight…)  but here’s a fun planting detail along the ramped sidewalk (i take it horsetail reed isn’t invasive ’round these parts…?):

Equisetum hyemale planted @ sidewalk's edge
Equisetum hyemale planted @ sidewalk's edge

tour stop number six: 4662 rockcliff rd, a two-acre residential property designed by david mahler of environmental survey consulting.  the homeowner was told he “really went out on a limb” with the landscaping for the property (unbeknownst to him), as the naturalistic plantings were anything but typical of the neighborhood (way to go out on that limb!  yay!).

naturalistic planting with path leading toward pavilion and house beyond
naturalistic planting with path leading toward pavilion and house beyond

the back yard garden featured a 120 foot stream that began at a grotto near the house and fell over a series of 14 small waterfalls.

a mini grotto and waterfall
a mini grotto and waterfall

the architect, paul lamb, designed and installed a series of lanterns made of copper flashing and plum weights (similar in form to the pavilion you see in the first image above) that hung from the trees in an elegant way about the house and garden.  unfortunately, my camera battery had it with the heat and died while here (sorry!), so you’ll have to imagine them.

tour stop number six: 110 academy.  this was the last garden on the tour, but i missed it before they closed up for the day.  so instead i headed to zilker park for some geocaching and barton springs for a dip in the pool.  before heading back on the road i decided to stop on soco for an ice cream dinner and realized that academy was the next street down.  so i went over for a walk-by.  i’m glad i did.  laurie kemp and josh henderson of dig it gardens packed a lot of fun details into this small urban lot (core-ten steel wall?  ipe path? eclectic neon signage?  sliding barn driveway screen?)!  check out pam’s description @ digging for her photos (she also has entries of the other gardens too, bonus…)

what a worthwhile day!  thanks to everyone who had a role in organizing this garden tour, and for giving me yet another reason to wish that i lived in austin…