Throwback Thursday: Donna & Mike Fowler’s Hutto Garden

It’s been an unexpectedly busy summer, and I’m celebrating the last 24 hours of fall rain (6″ and counting!) by doing a little blog upkeep. I found this post lounging nonchalantly in my drafts folder. I’m sure this fabulous garden’s changed with the seasons since then, but here’s how it looked wayyyyy back in the days of yore, otherwise known as May 2014:


Last week, a bunch of us Austin garden bloggers made a trip to Hutto to see Donna & Mike Fowler’s garden, which was recently featured on Central Texas Gardener. I have to admit that going in, I wasn’t sure I was going to like the garden, as I’m really not a fan of kitsch or of a lot of garden art crammed into a smallish space (I tend to prefer informal-looking plantings in a more formal hardscape with carefully cultivated art placed juuuuust so (I’m a snob; I admit it.).), but I was throughly charmed by both the gardens and by Donna and Mike Fowler. I have rarely met sweeter people, and they were so happy to show us around and were just in general throughly charming. (One of the things I love about meeting fellow gardeners and seeing their gardens is that as a socially awkward introvert, there’s this great geeky comfortable shorthand that comes naturally with a shared obsessive hobby. It’s the equivalent of drinking at parties.) I also took so many pictures that it’s taken me a week to pick my favorites and edit everything.

The Fowlers have a beautiful old house, and standing in front of it on the street, your view is of a traditional front lawn in front of the house (and also of a bright orange hippo-shaped car in the driveway). It’s when you look to the right of the house that the garden view unfolds. They have three lots, and with the exception of the big front lawn leading up to the house, it’s all gardened up. Here’s the first sculpture I noticed. Nontraditional sculpture is next to traditional home architecture, a sign of things to come:









To the right of the sculpture is a xeric garden featuring tough hesperaloe, Mexican feathergrass, and native pink skullcap, a combo that can take the Texas heat:








Behind that long wall is a giant vegetable garden. The hose guards have been all gussied up:







A close-up of the flower-shaped bottle tree in the center of the veggie garden:
backlit bottle tree









Speaking of bottle trees, here are a few of the many bottle trees featured in the garden:


To the right of the veggie bed is an informal bed of traditional cottage garden flowers and passalongs. A teepee is a reminder of Donna’s Native American heritage.


A closer look inside the teepee, where Donna invited us in and performed an impromptu smudging ceremony:


My favorite part of the garden was a narrow side yard along the house that had plenty of intimate seating areas, lots of wildflowers, and lots of hippos. They call it Hippo Valley. (I imagine a Hippo Valley valley with real hippos would feature much more carnage, blood, and death. Maybe a theme to run with for Halloween?) And as a non-native Texas who doesn’t leave the bounds of Austin on the regular except on a jet plane, I had no idea until last Tuesday that hippos are a THING in Hutto. The high school mascot is the hippo. (I wonder whether that makes the cheerleaders feel awkward?) I was amused to see that many locals and businesses had these concrete hippos, some customized and some not, featured on their property. It’s the Hutto version of Chicago’s classic CowParade. A few of the friendly hippos of Hippo Valley:


A few random pictures from the garden:

Tiers of succulents. Similar materials tie it all together:







A sculpture by Mike’s dad, one of several in the garden:








Whimsy in the glass-mulched dry creek. I was only able to capture a fraction of the action (and I rhyme all the time):








A more formal arrangement. Granite odds and ends brought at a steep discount from a local shop are mortared into this raised limestone bed. Buffed granite slabs and pieces were used all over the garden and it was interesting seeing a more formal material used in so many unexpected ways:








Bottle edging acting like stained glass:








A few random observations….a big part of what made the huge amount of garden art work for me is that, well, it’s a BIG garden, way bigger than I expected, so it wasn’t too busy. Also, much of the sculpture was labeled with formal plaques, which helped elevate it into the feeling of a curated sculpture garden, rather than a bunch of random garden art. It’s a subtle difference. I also liked how the titles of sculptures helped me gain insight into what they were about or the thought process in putting them together. There was a definite thread of humor running through the titles and quite a few visual puns, which is always something I appreciate.


I also really loved how everything in this garden meant something. It was a very personal garden. There were strong ties to family, friends, history, and place. Everything meant something. You can learn a lot about a person from their garden, and this one was very revealing. I think it’s one of the reasons that gardeners can get weird about their gardens, especially around other gardeners. And since everyone approaches gardening differently, it’s important for me to remember that it’s not all about whether something looks magazine-pretty. It’s also about what means something to the person who made it, and you’ve gotta respect that. When you become privy to those stories either literally or by spending time experiencing the garden, that’s part of what makes a garden a powerful space.

Other posts about the Fowler garden can be found at Digging and Garden Ally.

About The Gardener of Good & Evil

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4 Responses to Throwback Thursday: Donna & Mike Fowler’s Hutto Garden

  1. Pam/Digging says:

    Wise observations, Lori. The meaning behind the garden is as important as what it looks like. Donna and Mike managed to do both really well! BTW, I can’t believe you didn’t know about Hutto and its hippos. It’s just too perfect, really, and you have to love it when an entire town embraces such an absurd mascot.

  2. Lana Vanlandingham says:

    I sure would like to purchase one (or more) of those beautiful bottle trees. Does anyone know who made them?

  3. Pingback: The Inside Austin Gardens Tour: the Shari Bauer Garden. | Lush Landscapes for Tough Climates

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