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.

3 thoughts on “Howdy from Austin…almost above the clouds

  1. More than almost any other place I’ve visited via pictures, the Burrus house & garden makes me long to be there in person (and stay for weeks!). It’s so unified and evocative of its location, highly functional but simple-seeming. Your post captures vignettes and views I haven’t seen elsewhere, with great photos. Many thanks!

    (Q: In the view from the tower, is the building with solar panels on the roof part of the Burrus complex, or a neighbor’s?)

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    1. I agree-I could have moved right in if they’d let me (live in garden helper?) The private setting was lovely and the home a stunning example of a modern Texas style ranch home. All of the metal roofs you saw in the tower photo were theirs–such a complex roof design that you don’t even get a feel for from ground level.

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  2. What a wonderful overview of Ruthie’s garden! You really captured it, and I love the concluding bit about Ruthie working in her garden as she awaited the second bus. Also, she must be in GREAT shape from walking up and down that driveway.

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