Howdy from Austin…digging under the Death Star

In addition to her award winning blog Digging, Pam Penick’s garden creds include founding the Garden Bloggers Fling in 2008, an eight year run as a garden designer and freelance writing credits in well known garden magazines such as Garden Design, Country Gardens and Wildflower. In her spare time (?) she has authored two books, Lawn Gone! and The Water Saving Garden, and organizes an annual series of Garden Spark Talks in her home featuring local designers and garden experts.

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A little borrowed landscape as you approach Pam’s home

My Central California summer shares the heat and drought challenges Pam faces. She calls Austin’s scorching summer sun the Death Star and confides that she does the majority of her gardening in the spring and fall, as I do, and tries to relax in her pool, as I do, through the dog days. Having seen many of Pam’s garden elements from reading her blog over the last few years, I wasn’t sure I would see anything new but I hoped to expand my knowledge of the proverbial ‘spiky things’ that thrive in her landscape. An additional garden challenge for her is what Texas gardeners coyly refer to as ‘deer pressure’. When I lived in Georgia we called ’em like we saw ’em–those #$%&@#ing deer! Periodic torrential rains necessitate well thought out systems of dry stream beds and terracing to direct water away from home foundations and slow runoff down to mitigate erosion, hoping that your plan allows some of that water to percolate down into the landscape. Pam has approached her garden’s challenges with apparent good humor and the willingness to keep trying until she focuses in on the right solution.

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Pam describes her home as a “nondescript 70’s ranch”–the fact is that most of us live in nondescript ranches or bungalows or colonials of some vintage. Not to imply that all gardeners regard their homes as brick and mortar backdrops for their effort but for me it’s the garden that makes the home, not the other way around. Pam has added an edgy vibe through her use of contemporary materials and architectural plantings plus a pop of color with her aqua front door.

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To the left of her front door this trio of rusty metal planters hold heat lovers not favored by her antlered friends and their families. On the bus Pam shared with us the story of being given the tall metal pipe (which is also sunk into the ground several feet) and the ensuing harrowing effort it took to get the large toothless sotol (Dasylirion longissimum) into its new airy perch. The squaty one is a whale’s tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia).

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To the right Pam has planted a variety of leafy green and gray plants tucked up to the foundation, bordered by a gravel path to the back garden. Spring comes very early to Pam’s garden and thus many of her spring bloomers are well past their time.

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The rusted metal spiky ‘plant’ was added to the tall container to give it a little more vertical interest.

Pam’s front garden is mostly shaded by mature trees. A hill-like planting area provides a place to add a variety of shrubs, succulents and a few perennials which soften the circle driveway.

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Across the driveway a stepping stone path winds toward the back garden. The area features a semi-circle ‘lawn’ of ‘Scott’s Turf’ sedge (top photo, far left) and a shade illuminating patch of flax lily (Dianella). Recently Pam posted photos on her blog of a newborn fawn resting in this shady patch, apparently waiting for mom to return from shopping or lunch!

There is a party going on in Pam’s back garden! She has created a strolling garden of exploration, with lots of places to sit, relax and enjoy the many views.

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In a relatively compact space Pam has created multiple garden rooms and seating areas, layering in potted cacti and succulents which do not require her daily attention through the hottest parts of the Austin summer.

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The very private and shady back garden is lit up in its center by a curvy, cool aqua pool.

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Ok–so where can I get one of these that says FRESNO? The rustic sapling (Juniper?) fencing seems to disappear into the shade.

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One of two elevated comfy seating and eating areas. The lot slopes down from the house to the fence and these raised areas offer great garden and pool views. Pam has used lots of interesting containers to add green at many elevations, softening the brick facade and prominent use of stone to make the downhill slope transitions.

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The extension of her home into the back yard in a sort of upside down T shape makes this first raised area totally private from the deck just a few feet away.

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The deck offers a perfect dining spot with a view of the pool, plantings and Pam’s favorite garden feature, the stock tank pond surrounded by a stone sunburst patio.

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Pam’s garden is clearly a very personal space and these two little bricks dedicated to her children and set into the sunburst patio are right on the top of my list of favorite Penick garden elements.

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Pam’s goal to welcome non-deer wildlife is brought up close on her deck with the nesting box she installed for her resident screech owls to raise their family each year. I am going to tell you one more time to check out her blog at http://www.penick.net for several posts from May 2018 chronicling her screech owl family’s progress.

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In a shout out to Austin’s famous bridge bat colony this rusty bat hangs in repose over the deck.

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Steps away from both the pond and the pool this vintage meets contemporary conversation area beckons. The pool patio walls offer additional seating and a spot for Pam’s pooch, Cosmo, to sunbathe.

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I’ve never met a bottle tree (bottle hedge? bottle shrub?) I didn’t want for my own and this one is no exception. The cobalt glass sparkles in the dappled shade. Pam’s lot beyond the pool drops off pretty sharply and there are many massive stones to scramble over. She told me they were all ready in the landscape when they purchased the home and conjectured that the stones might have been unearthed when the pool was dug and then just spread out across the property rather than hauling them away.

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Salvia guaranitica echo Pam’s color choices in much of her garden art.

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You leave the back garden via a very wide side yard. This grouping of lattice framed mirrors draws you along the path and makes what would have been the ubiquitous blank wall of the back of her garage shine! Pam gave us the tip that the mirrors are plexiglass rather than glass, giving the reflection a wavy interesting feel and making it less attractive and hazardous to birds.

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This rustic and shady seating area is secluded from street view by carefully placed plantings. I am truly convicted now that I must add more seating and feet propping up spots throughout my garden.

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As I make my way back to the front a contemporary blue tuteur rest upon a lawn of ‘Berkeley’ sedge in perfect color harmony with a trio of ceramic globes.

Despite a whole lot going on, Pam has developed her garden into spaces that are visually calming through repetition of plant and foliage shapes. She has chosen a really nice balance of contemporary and vintage throughout which seems to evoke the Texas ambience which has enveloped me since I arrived. Giving old stuff new life and combining it with modern materials and architecture keeps Austin funky and fun.

Run…do not walk to check out Digging:Cool Gardens in a Hot Climate (www.penick.net) If I was savy enough to offer you links to the individual posts I mentioned about the fawn and the owls, I would. But then you might not spend a delightful hour or two just scrolling through her great variety of posts, including a bevy of garden travel destinations she takes us to through her wonderful photography. I would start by clicking on the tab New? Start Here to get an overview of her extensive site–you’ll love it!

 

 

Dancing Dolls…

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Readers with good memories may recall I was suffering from an acute case of Salviamania in the early spring of 2016. I posted My sage advice to you is… in May and then 2016 Salvia update… as a follow-up later that year. I was truly obsessed with collecting every introduction in a few salvia series such as Monterey Bay Nursery’s Turbulent Sixties and Western Dancers introduced by Suncrest Nurseries. Since that time I have added additional cultivars from those series and others but until early this year had not been able to successfully introduce the long sought after Salvia microphylla hybrid ‘Dancing Dolls’ to my garden. Many of these named varieties are almost never in my local garden centers–both these series are filled with older introductions and I recognize the store’s buyers must attempt to provide a good mix of the hot new things plus the old standards. That dream of someone calling to check what’s on my list for this season before the orders are placed is not likely to ever become reality. Do they not know that I am the Queen of the Dirt? I find the greatest selection when shopping on the coast and in Southern California and even then being able to check another one off my list is pretty exciting. Two previous purchases of ‘Dancing Dolls’ in 4″ pots got lost in the shuffle somewhere along the way–I see them in my photographic record of what I have purchased but have no idea whatever happened to either of them!

Finally found another a couple of months ago and got it planted in the newer lawn free plantings along my front walk and I have been rewarded with its plentiful and perfectly colored lavender and pale pink blooms. ‘Dancing Dolls’ shares it 2004 parentage with ‘Shell Dancer’ which grows in my back garden but the colors are less creamy and much more clear and sharp. I love the way she plays so well with other lavender and dark purple blossoms.

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I am feeling as if I need to start scratching that little salvia itch again!

Howdy from Austin…almost above the clouds

After a whirlwind trip to University of Georgia in Athens which saw me on the ground for less than 24 hours sandwiched between a couple of 2 hour flights from and to Austin I fell into my Texas hotel room for a night’s rest. Up and out bright and early on Saturday morning I joined my fellow bloggers on the bus in anticipation of the day’s adventure. I learned that the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling had gotten off to a bit of a rocky–no, I mean rainy start as many of my companions commented on today’s promising weather.

Over the next two full days we would tour 10 private gardens plus spend a little time at the Zilker Botanical Gardens. Rather than sharing them with you strictly in the order we visited, I am going to mix them up over many days alternating large and small, formal and funky, dry and lush–hoping to give you a broad vista of what Austin gardeners are doing.

After winding up into the hills overlooking downtown Austin and the University of Texas Tower there was still more climbing to do to get to the always-in-progress garden of Ruthie Burrus.

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So here’s were we hopped off the bus at street level. In Ruthie’s own words her 2 acre property is “all about pollinators, native plants, and taking advantage of views and natural surroundings.” No where is this more well illustrated than on the long walk up her driveway. I expect there is probably a golf cart in play to get the mail and haul the trashcans back and forth because it is not a casual stroll but a lung pumping ‘lean into it’ hike. I’m going to walk you up in pictures rather than words!

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Halfway there

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Glancing back to make sure we haven’t lost anyone!

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The beautiful limestone Texas ranch house comes into view

The Burrus garden came to life into 2012 with the joint goals of a private retreat with ample outdoor entertaining spaces and a landscape which would provide natural habitat for butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and moths to flourish. The ever-changing wildflower meadows which flank the driveway showcase native wildflowers, annuals and perennials amongst a backdrop of evergreen and deciduous hardwood trees and mature shrubbery. Ruthie’s garden is both a Certified Wildlife Habitat and a Certified Monarch Waystation. They have also built in a roof and gutter rainwater retrieval and storage system which includes a 10,000 gallon galvanized tank to provide chemical free irrigation to their gardens.

Ruthie has invited us to approach her back garden through her home. Her home has tremendous visual appeal–a variety of traditional Texas materials all pulled together to exude casual elegance. Liveablility always enhances a home beauty and this newer home has the warm feel of one lived for generations.

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Stone and stucco highlight the variety of facades through the shade of mature oaks
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This large colony of Jerusalem sage was just coming into bloom–I expect by afternoon it is in full sun
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Paths of massive stones wind among the beds
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A small side porch offers a welcoming rocker
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Long views to the distant hills from the front walkway

Ruthie shared that this side of her home is cool in the mornings and can be scorching in the afternoons. We enjoyed the dappled midmorning shade and I expect the front garden would look very different in full sun. I especially admired how Ruthie has used masses of a single species to fill large beds and borders. No frenzy of mixed color, just quiet drifts of many greens punctuated now and then with a drift of flowering perennial color.

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The Burrus front door is protected by a deep overhang and was totally in shade at the time of our visit. Even with my unsophisticated photography I think you can get that this is the reward for the long walk up the driveway. You can see straight through their home, across the pool to the skyline of Austin.

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Stepping out onto this beautifully styled outdoor living area the full impact of their bluff location is everywhere.

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The pool is a classic rectangle with a dark interior which I think allows your eye to focus on the skyline rather than the individual element of the hardscape.

Every choice Ruthie made for her inviting seating area is perfect and focuses on the homeowner’s connection to her garden and nature.

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Dramatic artwork depicting a nest over the woodturning fireplace
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Simple stone bowl planted with a single succulent species
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Rustic wooden container with mixed succulents

The garden wraps around the house on both sides. To the right there is a step down to a serene mixed perennial bed, beautifully viewed from the slightly elevated lawn. It strikes me that no area was deemed not important enough to create a beautiful view from the home’s interior.

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The back garden itself is quite shallow with a narrow lawn and bluff bordering beds whose contents provide color and interest without detracting from the views. As you walk the garden to the left in a circle which will eventually bring you back to the crest of the driveway there is so much to admire.

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Large dining area adjacent to a wall of windows allowing more great views from the interior
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Perennial and rose filled beds–I’ll volunteer to pull weeds here any day
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Tucked up close to the house is a great masonry and stone pizza oven–only a few steps from the dining area
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Another view of the Ruthie’s Garden Haus which I featured in the Austin sneak peak post

The Garden Haus anchors Ruthie’s Provence garden, a gravel filled area adorned with plantings of lantana, bee balm, roses and citrus trees. The haus is constructed entirely of vintage and salvaged materials and features rock gleaned from their property. Ruthie assured us that her haus is a very functional garden shed on the inside–not at all cute–I remain unconvinced and lustful for my own little stone house all the same.

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Jim Peterson, editor of Garden Design magazine and a loyal Fling sponsor, interviews Ruthie on video as she tells the story of her unique garden structure, adding that the climbing Peggy Martin rose inspired her desire for an old house to support an old rose.

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Just past the Garden Haus, Ruthie has hidden substantial storage and outdoor staging space for pots and supplies behind the rock walls–the open lawn offers lots of play space for the grandkids
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This peak through the fence and across the neighbor’s property offers a view of the Texas Colorado River
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As we come full circle back to the front Ruthie has tucked in a fanciful play area including a rustic platform tree house

As our group gathers around to start our downhill trek a murmur runs through the crowd that we have been offered the chance to go up to the 3rd floor observation tower above Mr. Burrus’s office space. I am not sure everyone got to climb up the narrow staircase to the small open air viewing platform–so sorry for those who missed it!

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We passed through Mr. Burrus’s office with its killer skyline view

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Another single file climb ended in a small circular platform with 360 degree views. The architecture of the home was so interesting from this drone’s eye view. Only room for 4 or 5 people at a time, we each tried for a quick photo then gave our spot over to the next person on the stairs.

Ruthie walked back down the long driveway with our group and as we pulled away on our bus bound for our next garden destination I could see her with gloves and sun hat, bent over in her meadow–the scene would have made a beautiful impressionist painting entitled Garden Woman at Work.

June bloom…

June is National Perennial Gardening Month! Simply put, perennials are plants which produce new growth for more than two years. They are garden mainstays which, with periodic cutting back and division, will flower year after year. Most successful gardens have a balance of trees, shrubs, annuals, biennials and perennials planted with a plan for successive bloom or interest through all four seasons.

Not all perennials are alike.

Some have fabulous blooms, other are grown primarily for interesting foliage.

Some may be viney climbers, others mounding clumpers and still others tall fountain-like sprays. There is a perennial to fit just about any color, shape or size you desire.

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Penstemon ‘Midnight’ just coming into bloom

Some develop woody/twiggy stems requiring more tidying up, others are herbaceous with soft stems and foliage throughout their season.

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Salvia greggii unknown variety but in need of a little nipping back!

While a few are evergreen, many will die to the ground to take a rejuvenating winter nap. Still others sort of look as though they are hovering between life and death, rewarding you with a renewed vigor as spring approaches.

Areas with severe winter weather conditions often grow perennials which they treat as annuals (not enough growing season/soggy roots cause rot) by replacing them every year. Conversely, we in often very mild winter climes sometimes need to encourage perennials to go dormant as the soil/air temperature may not get low enough to give them the message naturally. Just like your 3 year old who doesn’t want to take as nap–you as the parent know how much the rest will benefit the kiddo’s overall demeanor–so it goes will recalcitrant perennials.

While June is the perennial garden’s special month, take heed! In hot summer areas like mine this is the month for PLANNING the perennials you want to add to your garden–NOT PLANTING them. Fall is the best time to get most perennials in the ground to give them time to put down good roots and take advantage of whatever winter rain might grace your garden.  Arm yourself with knowledge about the optimal growing conditions for each perennial plant you are considering as seriously as your would for a shrub or tree purchase. They are built to last!

A few more June blooms from my garden…

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Penstemon ‘Purple Riding Hood’
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Penstemon ‘Garnet’

Good resources to research perennials to add to your garden include the old stand-by Sunset Western Garden Book, the New Southern Living Garden Book, Armitage’s Garden Perennials by Allan M. Armitage and California Home Landscaping from the Creative Home series. The website http://www.perennials.com has an excellent database of over 4000 plants and several great articles on choosing, planting and maintaining your perennial garden.


 

Austin pre-Fling road trips…Friendly Natives Nursery

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I found all the Fredericksburg natives to be very welcoming and friendly but none more so than Matthew Kolodzie, owner of Friendly Natives Nursery. His retail nursery and design-build firm sits amongst a shady grove of 150 year old post oak trees just a few blocks off Main Street.

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This day Matt and his small staff were busy ‘resetting’ the plant materials for the new season and straightening up after a windy night had left lots of large specimens laying down. With my camera clearly taking wide shots and my notebook in hand he may have easily recognized that I wasn’t a local shopping for native plants. When shared that I was from California he was very interested in what brought me to him–I described the Garden Bloggers Fling event and how I had found him through Central Texas Gardener (shout out to this great publication/tv show/blog who signed on as a Fling sponsor). He immediately encouraged me to bring the whole group to visit and asked me to share with one of our leaders, Pam Penick, his appreciation for her blog. I am not sure how his education as an engineer brought him to his passion for landscape design focused on native and well adapted plants but he clearly has a deep commitment to his role as an advocate and educator for those wanting to live with gardens evocative of Texas Hill Country style.

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The Friendly Natives property was owned in the 1900s by the local monument maker. Matt shared that there are still gravestones here and there that were left behind and one of the smaller outbuildings has written records of the stonemason’s orders on the wall. One of two small homes on the grounds acts as the cashier and gift shop area. It has been nicely restored and I would have been happy to just hang out on the porch all day.

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A nice variety of well maintained plants are arranged under trees and around seating vignettes. I was crazy over the potting shed pictured below.

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Matt and I talked plants for much more time than than he probably had to spare. I saw several interesting plants that I would love to try in my garden but the age old issue of ‘you can’t buy it unless someone grows and sells it’ came up–I did jot a few names down to survey my mail order sources for availability.

I met two of his three lady chickens. All three are called Michelle after Michelle Obama. Matt joked that all they ever said was “barack, barack” so the name just seemed appropriate. As we chatted, he leaned over to move a pot so that the gray Michelle could find a tasty morsel in the moist soil underneath.

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I loved the foliage combination of the variegated Silene dioica ‘Clifford Moor’ and the Salvia lyrata, or lyre leafed sage. I am game for pretty much any sage and this is one I have never seen in my area.

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Another foliage standout was Heucherella ‘Solar Eclipse’ shown below. The heucherellas are crosses of selections of heuchera and tiarella. Tiarella as a genus is much less tolerant of sun than heuchera are. I expect the crosses seek to get the best foliage variegation combined with greater sun tolerance.

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A casual query to Matt about where I might find a few well done residential landscapes to photograph brought an offer to jump in his truck and take a ride! Only a few blocks down toward Main Street were a residential landscape he had recently completed and the grounds of a local bed and breakfast he had refurbished. I also learn that the small front gardens of two local restaurants near the Japanese Garden of Peace were his work. Not wanting to take up any more of his time I declined his very kind offer of a guided tour and bade him good-bye, reflecting on what an asset he is to his community. He is clearly the kind of plant professional who is generous with his time and knowledge without regard to whether you actually have business to give him. He is the kind of nurseryman that you then return to when you have defined your project because he remember how well you were treated on your previous encounter.

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This wide side yard, almost the size of a second city lot was installed by Matt Kolodzie to include a covered dining area, a graceful fountain and a fire pit under the mature canopy of existing trees.

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This is the imaginative yard on the other side of the same home–also a very wide space with significant exposure to the street. Although not part of Matt’s design I wanted you to see the watering cans lined up on the stone planter playing the role of garden art! I saw this rustic fencing which I believe is made from native juniper trunks, executed in many variations all over Central Texas.

Below is a series of photos from Matt’s garden project at the Sugarberry Inn. The inn is anchored by a vintage home. Additional modern cottages were added on one side. The entire property backs on Town Creek.

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New waterwise streetscape installed under existing trees
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Central Texas has given me a whole new appreciation for the architectural qualities of the Hesperaloe flower stalk

Each of of the little cottages has a rocking chair front porch. The plantings are repeated throughout and include salvias, rosemary, Texas redbud, abelia and a gorgeous cinnamon colored rose which echoes the siding color.

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This one is my choice!

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This serene end of day relaxing area is at the far end of the little row of cottages. The creek is behind the outdoor fireplace and just down a small slope. I can see this design being perfectly suited to a small residential garden as well.

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A winding path from the fireplace seating area leads to a slightly downhill seating vignette. This dry creek bed was designed to carry runoff from the property down to the creek. Matt told me that it had proven itself in recent hard rains.

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Pretty plantings wind from the cottages to the rear of the original home which serves as the office. This was a pretty dang cute B & B–walking distance to Main Street’s shops and restaurants and the museum. Too bad you probably couldn’t afford to live there year around.

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I really enjoyed the short time I had in Fredericksburg. The drive from Austin was relatively easy with little traffic, the town’s history and architecture compelling and the unexpected Garden of Peace the cherry on top. I rate this road trip 5 stars!