Rethinking Fire…a Fresno Art Museum exhibit

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The Fresno Art Museum has been a well loved fixture in my community for many years, offering multiple exhibits annually and many opportunities for special events and education. The last couple of years, several friends and I have made a point to take in each changing exhibit whether it be sculpture, painting, photography, fiber arts or mixed media. A few hours in the museum followed by a fun lunch is a welcome respite to our normal daily activities.

One of the spring exhibits–Rethinking Fire–really struck a chord with me. It was not only beautiful to look at but also timely and thought-provoking in this era of increasing devastation to California by wildfires.

Multi-media artist Bryan David Griffith came to the pursuit of art full-time after an engineering education and a successful career with an international management consulting firm. He lives and works in the Arizona mountain town of Flagstaff, Arizona. In 2014, after the Slide Fire threatened his home and studio he was invited to study wildfire with scientists from the Southwest Fire Science Consortium and join a project entitled Fires of Change, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts.

In his own words from his Artist Statement for the exhibit Bryan tells us “In Western culture we traditionally view dualities–light and darkness, life and death, forest and fire–as opposing forces in an epic struggle of good vs. evil. We see ourselves as fighting nobly to preserve life and subdue death by taming nature to prevent unpredictable disasters like wildfires.”

Bryan’s art takes the position that these forces are not opposed but rather part of a continuous cycle. He proposes that by keeping fire out of the forest we have disrupted this natural cycle of life and his work seeks to provoke questions; finding solutions we can all work together to achieve.

The works Broken Equilibrium and Reconstruction, both from 2015 form the centerpiece of the exhibit.

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Broken Equilibrium, 2015 and Reconstruction, 2015 both by Bryan David Griffith

Broken Equilibrium portrays both the dense overgrowth of today’s forest and the destruction wrought by today’s wildfires. The trees on the right, also seen below from another angle, came from the Observatory Mesa thinning project. The burned trees on the left of the spiral were salvaged from the Slide and Schultz fires.

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You are invited to enter the sculpture and reflect upon man’s relationship with fire, with the broken natural spiral of life surrounding you.

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A slightly different camera angle reveals Reconstruction in the spiral’s core. An old growth downed tree was sculpted by cutting and burning. It’s puzzle like form references in the artist’s words, “the works of scientists and land managers to piece together an understanding of history and restore climate resilience to forests before ecological disaster and human tragedy unfold.”

The smallest part of the exhibit can be seen in the background of the above pictures and was to me the most moving of the works displayed.

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Each charred leaf in Requiem for Paradise, 2019, represents a life lost in the 2018 Camp Fire–the deadliest wildfire incident in California history in which the town of Paradise was literally burned to the ground.

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The Impermanence of Forests, 2017 by Bryan David Griffith

The artist photographed smoky this scene in a forest near his home and printed the haunting image from film onto silk. The silk’s edge was burned and the small pile of charred remains placed below were collected from the scene where the photo was taken.

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Rebirth, 2017 by Bryan David Griffith

Rebirth was inspired by the regrowth of aspen trees in an area on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon which was severely burned in 2006. The natural life cycle of mixed conifer and aspen forests is that while dense conifers dominate the aspens, lacking sun, no longer thrive. When wildfire destroys the canopy and opens the ground to sun the aspens are quick to regrow from underground roots even though their parent trees have died. Conifers reestablish more slowly as so for a time the aspens dominate.

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The aspen leaves in the piece are coated in encaustic beeswax and the cinders at the base are from the site of the fire. I love the way these leaves produced dancing shadows in the still and somewhat dim room.

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Box & Burn, 2015 by Bryan David Griffith

The title of this work comes directly from a term firefighters use to fight wildfires by using fire. The piece alludes to the suppression of fire from 1910 until present. The forest life cycle is broken and unable to heal. The open space, created by cutting and burning this old growth timber, represents the loss of age old information carried by the hundreds of years old tree.

These art works were meant to make viewers stop and think about how modern culture views fire, attempts to manage forests outside their natural cycle and ultimately reaps the consequences. This is an exhibit you could stop in to see for a few minutes or spend several hours in thoughtful repose on the room’s bench, viewing from all angles and considering the artist’s intent. We hear about the most important issues of climate change and forest management almost every day from scientists and politicians–I was inspired by seeing these challenges through the eyes of an artist.

Please visit http://www.fresnoartmuseum.org for more information about the museum’s current exhibitions and newly reopened gift shop.

Origami squared…

An overnight jaunt to Southern California allowed my husband and I a brief visit to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden to view their current exhibit of art in the garden entitled Origami in the Garden2 (actually the little above the line 2 as in the mathematical annotation for squared–no idea how make my keyboard do this.)

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One of two standing cranes by Kevin Box which greet visitors to the exhibit

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden spreads over 86 acres in Claremont, California and is the largest botanic garden dedicated to California native plants. Its mission is grounded by a philosophy of biodiversity and the importance of bringing real world conservation applications to the public through horticultural education, scientific research and sales of native plants. This garden is yet another public resource I never had the opportunity to visit in the decade+ that I lived in Southern California and today because our arrival is already late in the day and the light waning, we will only see a small part of the grounds. Visit their website http://www.rsabg.org for all the details about the garden, its events and resources.

There are no better words to describe this exhibition, an intersection between art and nature which will remain in the garden until April 14, 2019, than those on the website: “Origami in the Garden2 is an outdoor sculpture exhibition of larger-than-life origami creations. Created by Santa Fe artists Jennifer and Kevin Box, the sculptures capture the delicate nature of Origami, a paper art form originating in Japan and celebrated around the world. Crafted in museum quality metals, the artworks each tell the story of a single piece of paper as it transforms into a soaring bird, emerging butterfly, galloping pony and many other remarkable forms. The exhibition features the Boxs’ own compositions as well as collaborations with world renowned origami artists: Tim Armijo, Te Jui Fu, Beth Johnson, Michael G. LaFosse and Robert J. Lang.”

The guide we picked up at the entrance not only contained a map of the botanic garden’s various areas but an easy-to-read as you walked along guide specific to the location of each of the 16 outdoor sculptures celebrating art and nature through the lens of origami. Super cool was an Audio Tour phone number to call on your cell phone to hear additional information from the artists. As you stopped at each sculpture you dialed the number and at the prompt entered the audio tour number listed on both the map and the artwork’s signage. It was really fun to hear the actual artists talk about their pieces and the audio content expands upon what was on the printed placards by each piece. My husband took charge of navigating our route and queuing up the audio for each piece on cell speakerphone, leaving me free to let my senses take in the garden and my camera lens to wander. Unfortunately, this freedom had no immediate effect in improving my photographic skills but I looked very professional, as if I had an assistant along to do my legwork. By the time we had seen seen and heard about each piece it was past sunset and almost dark–and 4:58 pm, only 2 minutes shy of the garden’s closing. Here are a few of my favorites:

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Crane Unfolding by Kevin Box

This sculpture is the first origami-inspired work by Kevin Box and is crafted from painted cast stainless steel on a steel base. In his words, “The origami crane is a symbol of truth, peace, beauty and long life. This crane reveals the meaning of its life as it unfolds into a star.” To him, the folded crane is a representation of what we see on the surface of life, while the unfolded crane is a representation of the beauty hidden beneath–there is more to life than what meets the eye.

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Painted Ponies, a collaboration between Kevin Box and Te Jui Fu, a Chinese origami artist

Painted Ponies frolic in Fay’s Wildflower Meadow. They are fashioned from powder coated aluminum and represent an example of an origami technique called kirigami which means cutting paper. Scissors are used to make four cuts in the paper square and these cuts enable more easily achieving the detail needed for the ponies’ legs and ears. The symbol on the red pony’s hindquarters is a nod to the collaborative nature of this piece. The Chinese character of Te Jui’s last name, Fu, is enclosed in a box representing the metal sculptor’s surname.

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Duo by Jennifer and Kevin Box

The white bird or dove is a global motif recognized as a symbol of peace and the human spirit. In nature, cranes mate for life. These painted cast stainless steel cranes symbolize that quality of pure devotion.

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Duo occupies a peaceful space at the end of a stream bed in the Percy C. Everett Memorial Garden which features examples of grouping together plant material with similar water needs. I loved this large bubbling rock!

Who Saw Who? by Kevin Box, Tim Armijo and Robert Lang stems from a sort of after the fact collaboration. The raptor and mouse in their original origami forms were each cut from single sheets of paper: the mouse by Tim Armijo and the raptor by Robert Lang. Kevin Box cast each in bronze at different times and set them aside in his studio. It was not until he caught a glimpse of them later that they appeared to be looking warily at each other–predator and prey frozen in time and metal.

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Seed Sower & Seed  by Kevin Box, Michael G. LaFosse and Beth Johnson

Seed Sower by papermaker and origami artist Michael G. LaFosse and Seed by Beth Johnson were cast in patinated bronze by Kevin Box. The duo explore the role squirrels play in the life of a healthy forest.

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Nesting Pair by Jennifer and Kevin Box

When Jennifer and Kevin Box built their home and studio together, they were reminded of two birds building a nest. The bronze casted olive branches symbolize peace and compromise and form the nest. The artwork emerged naturally at a time in their life together when they were discovering and accepting the need for compromise to build a happy marriage. The addition of the two cranes, mated for life, resting comfortably on a nest of compromise completes this beautiful and very personal piece. Thank you, Jennifer and Kevin!

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Hero’s Horse by Kevin Box and Robert J. Lang

The origami Pegasus was folded from a single uncut square of paper by physicist Robert J. Lang based on a sketch designed by Kevin Box. The artists’ collaboration eventually produced a 25 foot tall fabricated metal sculpture now found in Dallas, Texas. This smaller version was then created from painted cast aluminum on a steel base. Kevin Box shares, “Hero’s Horse is a story of hope, reminding us that who faced with impossible odds help is on the way and good will always win the day.”

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Folding Planes by Kevin Box

Seven simple folds transform a blank page into an airplane in flight. Each fold is symbolic of a choice or action to transform an invisible idea into a reality and repeats a common theme in Box’s work–the story of a piece of paper dreaming of flying.

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Selected nights throughout the run of the exhibition RSABG will be open in the evening with its pavilions and other structures festooned with luminarias  and Japanese lanterns to see the sculptures by moonlight.

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Conversation Peace by Kevin Box

The term “conversation piece” refers to an interesting or intriguing object that sparks conversation. In this interpretation of the game rock-paper-scissors, the paper has won by folding itself into a peace crane and flying just out of the scissors’ reach. This artwork represents the sculptor’s belief that conversation is the key to the peaceful resolution of serious conflicts, many of which arise from our misunderstanding of each other.

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Rising Peace by Kevin Box

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As we round the gift shop to our last sculpture we have almost totally lost the light. The Johnson Memorial Oval is a wonderful setting for Rising Peace, allowing it to be viewed from all sides. At a distance the family of cranes appear to be rising into the night sky.

Although my focus was to at least see each one of the 16 sculptures I did see many interesting plants. This time of year there is not much expectation that a California native plant garden would be awash in bloom and this one certainly displayed evidence of a long and droughty summer not long gone by.

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A single cluster of flowers on XChiranthofremontia lenzii, an intergeneric hydrid introduced by Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. This was a massive tree/shrub with just this one glowing spot of golden orange, clearly the reason its common name is Fremontodendron ‘Pacific Sunset’.

If you are anywhere in the greater Los Angeles/Inland Empire area you still have plenty of time to take in this inspiring exhibition. A more in depth reading of the written materials I picked up at the entrance revealed an extensive educational program and a retail native plant nursery on site. Although this garden is a 3+ hour drive for me I’ve bookmarked their website to check back now and then so I don’t miss interesting upcoming events  I might be able to piggyback on to future SoCal trips.

P.S. Check out http://www.outsidetheboxstudio.com to learn more about metal sculptor Kevin Box, his work and collaborations with other artists!

 

Judy Adler gardens with nature in mind…

A few years ago while searching for garden tours on the internet I ran across the site for the Bringing Back the Natives Tour which takes place annually in the East Bay. Their site http://www.bringingbackthenatives.net is the home of not only the 14 year old tour, but also offers many resources for gardeners interested in native plants, water conservation, backyard wildlife habitats and much more. The May 2018 self guided tour included forty Alameda and Contra Costa County gardens, workshops and a native plant sale. Unfortunately May is a month overflowing with garden touring and educational opportunities (not to mention an intensive  work time in my own garden) and I have yet to be able to participate in the tour.

Their regular and very informational emails led me to sign up for a class last week end entitled Gardening With Nature in Mind and taught by environmental educator Judy Adler at her half acre garden in Walnut Creek. As with all Bay Area road trip type classes, it was an early departure from Fresno and a long day but well worth the drive.

We were a small class which allowed plenty of time for questions and to get to know each other’s diverse gardening interests and experiences. Judy’s home landscape functions as suburban farm, an ecological and horticultural laboratory, a wildlife habitat and a community educational resource. Her passion for nature and sharing the interconnectedness of all facets of the natural world is boundless. A walk around her garden and her so called “trespass area” offers learning opportunities and examples of sustainable gardening practices in play at every turn.

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Judy’s home is one of two in a cul-de-sac adjacent to a Walnut Creek public school. Across the street lies an open area, once a mustard field, that belongs to the school district. Since 1996 Judy has shaped a half acre plot of this land into a biodiverse dry garden which reflects what is able to survive with only rainfall. In the shade of the oaks we learn about the Mediterranean Climate range across the world–areas marked by dry, hot summers and mild, wet winters. The logs you see “planted” in the ground are examples of hugelkulture, a horticultural technique where a mound created by decaying wood debris can produce a planting area with improved soil fertility, water retention and soil warming.

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The spines on this acacia species native to Chile provide cover and protection for birds and other wildlife.

Berries of the evergreen toyon provide winter food for birds and the juicy fruits of the prickly pear has been food for both wildlife and man through the ages.

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Piles of brush and trimmings are left to decay in place, offering additional wildlife habitat as they are on their journey to nourishing the soil beneath.

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This area has many colonies of milkweed. As we encounter stands of now desiccated milkweeds plants, Judy shares a photographic life cycle book of the plants and the monarch butterflies they feed that she has produced as an educational resource.

Of course the area includes lots of spiky things–Judy’s lesson here was to make sure you know the mature sizes of those cute little succulents you put in the ground!

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Looking back toward the hills behind the dry garden. In the foreground are stands of California native rye, Leymus triticoides, which has been fashioned into a maze for young gardeners to explore.

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A short walk back up the street to Judy’s home offered a chance to admire the sculptural quality of the trunks of this group of manzanita.

Prior to class Judy had sent us all electronically a lot of reference material, including a plant list of her garden, a list of resources covering topics such as bee-keeping and permaculture and much more plus a little pre-class homework to learn to calculate rainfall volumes. Judy is all about the water. The fact is that she has very little to work with and is committed to being the best steward of her little piece of the earth’s resources, as well as carrying that message to the general public. I admitted to not doing my homework as our class moved into a discussion of rainwater harvesting. Had I done the math I would have not been so surprised to learn that a roof surface of 2500 square feet could yield almost 30,000 gallons of rainwater in an area receiving only 18 inches of rain a year!

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Here you see Judy as she explains the roof rainwater harvesting system she built with the help of friends and neighbors. The addition of a product called Gutter Gloves as an initial filtering agent allows rainwater to flow off her roof surfaces free of large debris, into a PVC pipe system that then provides a second filter and ultimately routes the water into one of the three 3,000 gallon water tanks just visible over her shoulder. The system is pressure operated with no pump involved. She also uses recycled fire hoses to deliver water to various parts of her landscape!

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A basic botany lesson introduces us to the characteristics of different pollinator insects and blooms in Judy’s pollinator garden give her an opportunity for a pop quiz to review what we have just learned.

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This 1,500 gallon pond incorporates an upper tier bio bog to aid oxygenation. Judy shared that this pond teems with wildlife throughout the year and provides her with a wonderful observation spot.

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This small greenhouse is in full sun part of the day. These recycled containers are filled with harvested water which warms in the daytime and heats the greenhouse when temperatures cool in the evening.

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Raised beds with the remnants of the season remain as food and shelter for birds and insects.

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A pergola to the back patio supports native grape vines. The bright white foliage is a woody perennial shrub called germander which sports bright blue flowers in spring.

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The resident hens participate in the patio goings-on. Judy uses the coop’s manure to enrich needy soil and enjoys both the eggs and the company her girls give her. The chickens are all rescues and relish visitors to the garden as they know there will be a little treat for them!

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During our time with Judy she touched on many topics of interest to gardeners and wildlife lovers alike. Rather than an in depth coverage of any one facet we were able to get a little taste of a diverse range of related subjects and the resource materials Judy shared offered avenues for further exploration on an individual basis.

While my own gardening aesthetic probably will never rise to the level of sustainability Judy practices I absolutely admire the fact that she very clearly WALKS the TALK in all aspects of her life. Her enthusiasm, matter of fact style and plain language is appealing to adults and children alike and I am sure everyone in my class went home having learned at least one new thing–I know I did.

Leaving her garden you see this diminutive art piece with arms raised to the heavens. It is a perfect representation of the joy and peace Judy experiences by observing and being connected with life in all its forms. The art piece was the inspiration for her ebullient garden gate created by metal sculptor Mark Oldland.

Please visit http://www.diablonature.org to learn more about Judy Adler’s life and work.

 

 

Howdy from Austin…party at Lucinda’s

My apologies that the Austin posts have been appearing in dribs and drabs. Lots of May travel pushed my own late spring garden tasks right on in to June and I have not caught up yet. Add to that some June travel, lots of mountain cabin maintenance (when the smoke from surrounding blazes was not too bad), my husband’s retirement and too many other distractions to list. I think these are supposed to be my Golden Years…

I like to introduce posts about private gardens with a nice wide photo of the garden’s street side vista to let you take in what any walker, runner or bicyclist would enjoy as they pass by on their daily routine. This time I’m going to introduce you to the garden creator first, as she sets the stage better than any wide shot could.

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Lucinda Hutson is a cookbook author, garden and lifestyle author and lover of all things “Texican”. Lucinda is a self described tequila aficionada and the golden nectar is the focus of her latest book, Viva Tequila! Cocktails, Cooking and Other Agave Adventures. She was born and raised in El Paso, Texas and has lived in and gardened on her urban Austin cottage property for over 41 years. Her website (www.lucindahutson.com) entitled Life is a Fiesta with Lucinda! is a party for both your eyes and your spirit.

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How can you not love a gardener who wears purple cowboy boots??

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We arrive at Lucinda’s casita “La Morada” (little purple house) in a dappled early morning light that only exaggerates the cottage’s whimsical, Texas style fairy tale aura. Being a girl whose own garden graces a home with a purple front door and matching trellis work, how can I not be tickled by this brightly colored bungalow? The bright white trim allows the bold colors to pop while also acting as a unifying detail. Lucinda has done what we all secretly want to do–she has painted her home to delight herself rather than for resale!

The sculptural tree trunk is that of a ginkgo tree, planted by Lucinda 36 years ago from a five gallon can. She shared that it is one of the oldest and tallest ginkgo species in Austin.

A purple house deserves a pink door in my book and the floral themed tile accents set the tone for the layer upon layer of detail the rest of the home and garden offer. Just to the left of the arch you can see Lucinda’s tiled house number leap right off its purple backdrop.

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Sancho, the resident gato, keeps a watchful eye on his garden’s visitors.

Lucinda’s garden was originally an organic herb garden, an integral part of her life as an author of books and articles about cooking and entertaining. But as many gardens do, it evolved over time into a gathering spot for friends and neighbors and a place for Lucinda to try new plants and observe the constant buzz of nature around her.

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At the time of our visit the front garden was predominantly green, some plants having finished their early spring flowering and other summer bloomers not yet at their prime. Please go to her website and take the photographic garden tour and you will see much abloom plus an great display of vining  and climbing beauties ablaze with bright flowers.

Lucinda graciously invited those who desired to go through her home to reach the back garden as a way of spreading out the traffic flow in the small space. I decided to take the gravel path, passing the shady woodland area, into the wide side courtyard.

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This side courtyard is appropriately called the Fish Pond and Mermaid Grotto and is awash (no pun intended) with all things of the sea.

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This lushly planted area abounds with a great variety of foliage and blooming plants, including many pots.

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Even the stone wall behind the pond has a fish swimming across it!

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The mermaid altar rises from a sea of copper troughs in which succulents and sansevieria are planted, as if on the sea floor.

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On the cottage side of the courtyard this Haitian mermaid and friends swim in a sea of purple.

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Colorful pots echo the purple and hot pink color theme.

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An open area with seating perfect for relaxing with a glass of iced tea separates the Pond and Mermaid Grotto from the Kitchen Garden, where the cool blues and purples of the sea give way to yellows and oranges evoking the Texican theme.

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All manner of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers grow in raised beds and containers. You can get a glimpse in both photos (near the greenhouse) of Our Lady of La Tina in her bathtub shrine keeping an eye on all that grows here.

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Lucinda unabashedly admits that her garden is both water and labor intensive. Although she has an extensive drip system many hours, especially in the hottest parts of summer, are needed with a hose in hand, making sure every little corner and pot has been covered.  Winter is not without effort as she must move many succulents and tropicals to the greenhouse or garage for protection from the cold.

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In the last three photos you can see little snippets of the numerous plates Lucinda uses to border her Kitchen Garden raised beds, a play on her “garden to plate” theme. Not to leave the cutlery out, these shiny cuties pop their heads up from the herbs and veggies.

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This unique corn themed mosaic window frame is right across from the Kitchen Garden and easily visible from Lucinda’s kitchen.

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The Interior Patio packs a lot of goings on into a compact area. As you round the end of Lucinda’s cottage she has displayed her colorful collection of wooden Mexican wicker seated chairs.

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This entrance to her collection of Latin books, artifacts and collectibles is called the Stairway to Heaven.

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I took just a peek but a few of my fellow bloggers found a lot to see!

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A potted green room divider separates the cottage from the balance of the garden. I love the unique “awning” wrapping the corner and extending across the back of the house.

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A large wood deck offers umbrella covered dining opportunities and the gateway to Lucinda’s Creative Cathedral, an aromatic cedar cabin where she does all her writing.

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The cabin offers a dark, cool haven in contrast to the brightly painted and lavishly decorated garden exteriors.

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This great spot in Lucinda’s garden is perfect for plant display or to have a bite to eat. The multitiered benches are covered with weather friendly oil cloth.

The back part of the garden houses the Tequila Cantina including a unique tequila bottle tree.

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Notice the mulch–bottle corks! No found object fitting Lucinda’s themes goes unused.

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An outdoor shower is handy just in case anyone imbibes a bit too much. An open area of flagstone patio allows Lucinda to set up her party tables, chairs and fixings in whatever style suits the to-do!

Lucinda’s garden is intimate in size and in its ability to give you a window into her life and personality. Few of us are bold enough to live life as large as this garden does.

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We admired, lingered, chatted, took pictures and notes AND I’m sure a few of us probably asked to come back again, like reading a book the second time to catch all those things you missed the first time. Lucinda’s garden is like a party everyone wants to be invited to!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Howdy from Austin…The Natural Gardener

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On my first day out on my own before the Garden Bloggers Fling Austin 2018 officially began I managed to squeeze in a quick visit to The Natural Gardener, a destination garden center in South Austin known for its pioneering work in organic gardening and sustainable living. This family, dog, picnic, photographer friendly gardening experience was to be the luncheon destination for my group on Friday during my absence and I figured if it rated a spot on a packed itinerary; it should not be missed. I am still dodging and weaving around angry skies at this point in the day but again my pre-Fling visit did not suffer the gully washing rains that my group would contend with a couple of days later.

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Of course, the colorful annual offerings were right out front
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There was no shortage of spiky things
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Only been in Austin one day and all ready I love the rustic wood and galvanized vibe
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All the pollinator friendly perennials are colorfully tagged to show you what critters favor them

If I were an Austinite, The Natural Gardener would be in my ‘drop by once a week to see what’s new whether I needed anything or not’ category for good quality and well-tended plant materials but the shop’s main draw for me would be all of the other fun experiences and activities appealing to gardeners and non-gardeners alike. Its eight acres offer quiet areas of contemplation, places to swing and sway, lots of garden ideas to adapt, animals to pet and even an enchanted forest. Established in 1993 by John Dromgoole on a neglected farmstead after the site of his Oak Hill organic gardening business fell to the widening of Highway 290, The Natural Gardener has grown to be a vital community resource which includes display gardens, teaching gardens, farm animals, the retail nursery and many areas of wildlife habitat. Check out http://www.naturalgardeneraustin.com to see all this delightful spot has to offer. I’ll show you just enough to wet your appetite!

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The Frog Pond
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The Organic Garden with the Compost Tea House in the background–lots of good educational take home material is available 
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These greens are looking good!
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The Hill Country Stream
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This petite stream was one of my favorite vignettes
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The Herb Garden
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Fun painted VERY LARGE rainwater collection tank
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A small part of the sustainable living picture in play–they practice what they preach
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The arbor marking the return to the retail area is almost indistinguishable from the gnarled trunks of the Milletia reticulata vine
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Looking back into the gardens from the other side of the arbor–notice the Certified Wildlife Habitat sign
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Loved this natural edged planed wood plank siding used with the rusted corrugated metal on the check out shed not in much use due to the weather

Two of the rainwater catch tanks tucked in all over the retail nursery area–they are almost like garden art!

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As I walked up the road I found this whimsical metal gate and a bike hanging around just it case it might be needed
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No interesting thing goes unused
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The Labyrinth and its surrounding benches are a quiet contrast to the garden center and display garden’s bustling activity
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Willie Nelson’s guitar captured in apricot carpet roses
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Entrance to the Enchanted Walk through the woods
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The Butterfly Garden
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Leaving the Butterfly Garden
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Maypop passionflower vine
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The Natural Gardener’s passion for its mission is clear in the sign identifying their outdoor classroom space!
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The Farmhouse Store is a treasure trove for gardeners, birders and butterfly lovers all

Although I almost never purchase plants when I travel out of state (California’s laws about bringing in live plant materials are very specific) I always go to the independent local garden centers to see what’s going on. It’s easy to get the gardening pulse of a region by seeing what’s being sold to the gardeners with boots on the ground, so to speak. With the two Texas plant purveyors I’ve seen so far I am really impressed with the time and energy both have devoted to creating almost magical display gardens to give their customers an idea of what things really look like in the ground and in combination with other plants. Both have worked hard to be garden coaches and create gardening communities–far above and beyond just selling plants. The Natural Gardener’s brochure says it all!

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Austin pre-Fling road trips… Antique Rose Emporium

Knowing I would miss the actual first day of the group itinerary, I front loaded a couple of extra Austin days leading up to the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling. There would be no way to see that day’s private gardens but I wanted to at least see the public things the group would cover on that first day and a few side trip suggestions in our pre-Fling materials had captured my attention–high on the extras list was a road trip to the Antique Rose Emporium about 2 hours east of Austin in the small town of Independence, Texas.

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This 8 acre display garden, event venue and retail nursery was established in 1984 by Mike and Jean Shoup. Holding a Masters Degree in Horticulture and growing woody perennials for the landscape industry and retail centers since 1976, Mike grew weary of the green shrub grind and turned his attention to finding plants native to Texas which could fill the same purpose as those ubiquitous go-to foundation plants currently in favor. It was on one of those plant finding forays that Mike first encountered everblooming roses growing happily in desolate and uncared for country areas. His fascination with and acquisition of what he calls “pioneer roses” or “survivor roses” became the foundation of the Antique Rose Emporium. In addition to the roses available in the retail garden center they have a huge mail order inventory and ship all over the continental United States. Mr. Shoup is also the author of Empress of the Garden, a gorgeous coffee table book laden with photos and growing tips.

Upon pulling into the gravel parking lot I have to say it looked exactly as I thought it would–like the garden of a family well settled into their land for generations. The retail part of the business is tucked beautifully and naturally into an area overflowing with shaded beds, borders, vintage buildings and whimsical garden art.

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Come on in! Who could resist?

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The Beatrix Potter themed Children’s Garden overflows with all things Peter Rabbit! Friendly squirrels top the fenceposts on the purple picket fence.

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One of several bottle trees 

In the foreground you can see a great stand of blue Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’, a Texas native mealycup sage. It is growing in many large perennial colonies all over the display gardens and at about 30″ high is much taller than the mealycup sages I see in California garden centers. I learned that it was found at the Central Texas gravesite of Henry Duelberg by Texas horticulturalist Greg Grant who introduced it along with a white mealycup sage found at the grave of Henry’s better half–appropriately called Salvia farinacea ‘Augusta Duelberg’.

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Salvia farinacea ‘Augusta Duelberg’

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A variety of pathways, brick and gravel, offer approaches to the display gardens and historic buildings on the site. This one, smothered in a green canopy just begs you to walk through with the promise of wonderful things on the other side.

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A second homage to the humble terra cotta pot marks the entry to retail plant area. I had seen this wonderful sculpture in an article in Southern Living Magazine years ago and have never stopped talking about how to add a similar feature to my garden.

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Looking back from the retail area
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Huge surface roots from a very old crape myrtle–natural garden art!
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The corn crib (which you see the side of in the distance in the previous photo) was moved to its current home from about 300 yards away.
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A closer side view
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Manager Gayle Wehring confirmed this was a ‘found’ Phlox-variety unknown but clearly very happy! 
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Looking back over the shade bed into the retail area
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Meandering tiny stream

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Treasures and Trellis, a c. 1850 classical cottage moved from nearby town Cat Springs, sits surrounded by cottage gardens and a path inviting you to stroll

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The 2 story McKnight-Hairston stone home originally sat on this acreage. The homestead included a detached kitchen, smokehouse, milk house, corncrib and barn. Only ruins of the detached kitchen remained when the Shoups purchased the land. The stone kitchen has been restored and is surrounded by a period cottage garden and a perennial border.

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Stone kitchen perennial border
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Looking across the circular center garden toward the stone kitchen
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This unknown small flowered pale pink rose all but obscures a low stone border wall
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Well maintained, wide walkways carry you from the more densely planted areas out into open areas with expansive views

There are a number of locations in the display gardens which are very popular for weddings and community events. Above you look past these HUGE rebar tuteurs covered with roses and other vines to a picturesque white gazebo. It was very cloudy throughout my visit but at this point it looked as though the skies would open up at any minute.

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I can easily imagine a bride walking on her father’s arm through these crisp white wooden arches to met her groom in the gazebo
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This chapel was built a few years ago as a meeting house
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A wide open meadow filled with roses, perennials and grasses on the side of the chapel

One of the most appealing things to me about these display gardens and the variety of spots to hold formal and informal gatherings was that they look exactly like what they are–country gardens. They are not manicured and clearly face all the challenges a home gardener with a large property would face–too many plants and not enough hands. They looked as though nature was really at work here: annuals reseeding, bees and butterflies pollinating, roses resting to bloom once again, real life, real gardening!

The drive from Austin was wide open and easy. The gardens were inviting and inspiring and I know would be different upon every visit. Thank you to the Antique Rose Emporium for being one of the Garden Bloggers Fling Austin 2018 sponsors. You can read more of their story and check out their online mail-order rose catalog at http://www.antiqueroseemporium.com

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