Gardens on Tour 2009: Rockcliff Road

So, while my roommate tears up the front yard with a giant Bobcat in a desperate bid to rip out a giant stump so I can get on with my grand gardening ambitions and we can all get on with our lives, I’m sitting on the front porch with my laptop observing how in the timeless conflict of man versus nature, it’s looking like once again nature is going to kick my ass.

To distract myself, I figured I’d might as well post about the second garden we visited on Saturday, the giant garden on Rockcliff Road. While sweating my butt off out here and feeling the dirt grit between my sweaty toes, my strongest recollection of Rockcliff Road is that I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a do-it-yourself project, and right now I would kill to be able to present my grand vision and let someone else make it happen. But until I win the lottery and/or develop superpowers, I guess I’ll just have to live vicariously.  And speaking of vicariously, heck, half the time I was at Rockcliff Road I wasn’t sure if I was in Austin or freakin’ Rivendell.  Seriously:


Still gorgeous:

Hey, gorgeous:

Insert another laudatory adjective here:

I give up.  It’s gorgeous, and I could never do this myself.  Someone recently mentioned that I won’t ever win the lottery unless I buy a lottery ticket.  Maybe I should do that.

Last spring I tried to build a pond in my yard.  I gave up trying to dig such a big hole through caliche and massive tree roots, and the liner’s now sitting in my garage.  I feel it mocking me from walls away.
Anyway, here’s the view from the bottom pond looking up towards the house. It’s steeper than it looks.

Here’s the view from the bottom pond looking down, quite a drop.  Clearly, man won the man versus nature battle here.

Here’s my favorite thing about the entire place, the grotto. I’ve gotta confess that I’m a sucker for both grottos and follies. I have an entire folder full of pictures on my hard drive. Even better, I had no idea there was going to be a grotto here– I’d just heard about the ponds.

I loved the “floating” stones and the bench that runs along the back of the grotto.  I wish I’d taken a picture looking out and down the levels of waterfalls.
And here I pause to recommend everyone run over to Tom Spencer’s blog, where he’s posted some gorgeous pictures of the grotto here (scroll down to May 10).

There’s a second source for the ponds, to the right of the grotto and echoing its shape.  I like how the arches of the water sources echo Roman aqueducts:

Around the side of the house, a sunken area. I was a bit confused by this since there was no furniture or apparent purpose to the space until someone said it was a dog-washing area. Judging from the size of the dog door nearby, I’m guessing that some pretty big dogs live here.

A close-up of the stonework. I liked the precision fit:

The view from the sunken area. I’m guessing the vines will cover the wire grid roof in a few years, but I liked how it looked as it was. And the lawn. I hadn’t seen the unmowed look in person till I went on this tour. The garden at Buckeye Trail also used unmowed grass to great effect.

At the front of the house, another water feature echoes the steps down into the front courtyard:

A seating area in the front courtyard. Gee, I wish my stump would do that:

A close-up of the inside of the fireplace. I loved the smoke patterns. The herringbone brick also reminded me of part of the driveway that looked old, and upon closer inspection it appeared that the builders had used a couple of different colors of bricks to imitate the wear and tear of age. I’m kicking myself for not getting a picture, because I loved the effect.

So, this garden too felt very secluded, but in a different way than the garden on Academy Drive.  Here there was actually quite a bit of acreage surrounding the house, which was set a ways back from the road, and the surrounding woods blocked any view of neighbors.  
So, being a person who grew up in the country and prefers to not have people looking into my yard, I was surprised that I didn’t connect with the naturalistic, woodsy garden here the same way I did with some of the others on the tour, and I had a hard time putting my finger on why. It was obviously gorgeous.  
I think part of it was that, with the exception of the grotto, I felt more exposed in that garden than I prefer.  I didn’t feel like there were really any private spaces to explore or hole up in, and I really like that sense of discovery and I like the intimacy of having smaller spaces in a larger whole. Heck, even when I would play in the woods as a kid, I’d compulsively build treehouses and places to hide and secretly survey my domain.  You could see pretty much the whole back garden from inside the grotto and I assume from the house, and pretty much the whole front garden from the driveway, and the spaces weren’t really broken up significantly into different areas, except between the front patio and front yard, exaggerated by the lack of greenery within the hardscaped areas of the patio.  There also wasn’t a whole lot of comfortable seating throughout the garden, and I tend to not really relax in seating areas unless my back is to some kind of wall, since I never hear people come up behind me.
So I guess that, as a whole, while I loved certain aspects of the Rockcliff Road garden, overall my impression was that it felt more like a place to wander around in than a place to relax.  I’m curious to know if anyone else had a similar emotional reaction to this garden, or if it’s just a personal quirk.

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12 Responses to Gardens on Tour 2009: Rockcliff Road

  1. sweet bay says:

    I really liked the first 8 pictures — you’re right, just gorgeous, with all of those ferns and water — but after that the garden almost got an industrial feel.

  2. I thought this garden was rather like visiting a nature preserve, where deer were not allowed of course. There was so much growing under the trees compared with at my garden where there is nothing. The water features were done by the poeple who did the ones at the WFC and that cost $75,000 about 10 years ago. Imagine!

  3. vertie says:

    I saw the mention about the dog washing area on Pam’s post, and I’ve got to admit I still don’t get it. Can the dogs not jump the stones? Why would you need a dog washing area?

    The rest of it is definitely a lot of work.

  4. Pam/Digging says:

    The Last Homely House! I love your Rivendell reference, Lori.

    I totally agree with your assessment of this garden. While obviously lovely and admirable in its use of natives, it was my least favorite of all the ones we saw. The seating, what there was of it, was austere, and even the house seemed so—like a gated manor house. Plus, and this is just a matter of preference, I prefer a more “gardened” garden. I want it to look like a garden, not a nature preserve. I realize this garden is heavily gardened, but it’s done so well that it looks like Mother Nature did it.

  5. getgrounded says:

    I’m thinkin’ that’s pretty gorgeous. I love all that water. Interesting also that the garden was all about water and rocks and foliage, I don’t see much in bloom in your photos.

    But I know what you mean about cozy spaces. As a child, I remember finding a hidden “fort” of corn stalks in the family corn garden (several acres) and I created a wonderful tea party inside, away from everyone. I didn’t tell anyone else about it, until my folks freaked when they couldn’t find me one time, and I had to ‘fess up. They actually thought I was clever, fortunately.

  6. getgrounded says:

    By the way, Lori, I loved your twitters while you were working on the stump. So far I guess, it’s still Nature 1, Gardener 0?

  7. Lori says:

    sweet bay – Ah, a lightbulb went off above my head when I read your comment: this garden reminded me of a showplace like at a home and garden show, not a real lived-in garden!

    Lancashire rose – I did like how the number and variety of things blooming in the front yard, but I forgot to mention it. That was pretty impressive, especially considering the amount of shade. I wonder if they had to add a ton of compost, and whether tree roots will end up crowding out all of the carefully-cultivated flowers after a few years.

    Also, $75,000 for water features ten years ago? You could have bought a house in Austin for that back then! I can't imagine what it would cost now. About the price of my house, I'm guessing, if the housing = water feature equation remains constant. 😉

    Vertie – Hmm…I guess in such a pricey neighborhood, the question isn't 'why a dog washing area?' but rather 'why not?' I know I'd fill the space with super-comfy furniture, but that's just me.

    Pam – I'm glad you liked the reference. I made a really terrible Legolas joke too, but took it out at the last minute, because I am a giant dork.

    I have such mixed feelings about this garden, but I wouldn't say it was my least favorite, though that's mostly thanks to my grotto fetish. It's actually tied with the Kempson garden, though my gripes with the Kempson garden had more to do with the neighborhood than with the garden itself, but I should probably wait to go into that until I post about it.

    Anyway, I think I would have been so much happier with the Rockcliff garden as a whole if the front patio'd been better-integrated with the greenery with some lushly-planted pots and more comfy seating or something. It just looked like a Home & Garden show idea room rather than a room for living, which was symbolic of the larger whole.

    Getgrounded – I should have taken some pictures of the many flowers, but I figured everyone else with nicer cameras (*cough* Pam *cough*) would do a better job. Since it was a rich neighborhood, I was honestly more interested in what kind of hardscaping they'd do with all that money than in the naturalistic plantings.

    Also, I totally did that cornfield fort thing too, and it was awesome. I pulled up enough 6' cornstalks to make a room, and then wove the ones I pulled out in a basketweave with the corn that was still growing to make “walls”. It was pretty cool, if I do say so myself. 🙂

    P.S. Man = 0, Nature = 1, and if you saw the current state of my front yard, you would laugh your ass off.

  8. EAL says:

    I love walking through dramatic spaces like that. Their very impossibility actually makes the experience more enjoyable for me.

  9. Lori, your pictures are excellent … you really captured the feel of the garden for me. I’d love to see it for myself someday.

    Since the front yard’s already ripped up, have you checked to see what a tree service would charge for grinding the stump? That would give you wood chip mulch for beds or the compost pile.

  10. Hey there!

    I just found your lovely blog and I'm adding it to my list of central Texas blogs. Thanks!

  11. Lori says:

    Accidental Huswife – Thank you so much for leaving a comment, because it means that I found your blog, and it is excellent! I have to confess that I read the entire thing in one sitting. I love the approach you're taking, and the recipes are such a bonus. I'm new at veggies in this climate, and a lot of what I grow ends up going to waste because I'm not a cook and have no idea what to do with my produce. You've given me lots of things to think about!

  12. I love the tours in beautiful gardeners , I really like it, I think that this information is so important to many people because many houses have spectacular gardeners!22dd

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