The Inside Austin Gardens Tour: Death-Defying Natives, the garden of Gregory Thomas

Gregory Thomas’s garden is a fantastic design lesson on how to use hardscape to give a space structure, purpose, and to keep it looking good year-round through the extremes of Texas weather.

Here’s the view of Gregory’s house from the street:
Inside Austin Gardens Tour 2015 - Gregory Thomas garden

The area closest to the street is planted with tough, reseeding, and mostly-native plants. In the spring, it’s overflowing with the wildflowers that make Texas fields so iconic– bluebonnets, larkspur, Mexican hat, coreopsis, Indian Paintbrush, and Mexican feathergrass in all its spring glory.

In the fall, after one measly rain shower in five months, the flowers are much more subtle, like this Gregg’s dalea:

Keeping the pollinators happy, one flower at a time:

The delicate white flowers of native fleabane cheer up the front garden from spring until frost.

Salvia greggii marches along the curb to match the stop sign at the corner:

Xeric evergreen foliage plants also shine when water is scarce. This “Blue Glow” agave and chartreuse sedum make a complimentary pair.

To separate public and private spaces, Gregory had a low retaining wall built around his front entry area, which gives it the feel of a courtyard. The front lawn area is dedicated to low-water alternatives to the traditional St. Augustine or Bermudagrass lawn and works well as a negative space to rest the eye in contrast to the naturalism of the streetside plantings.


The sunny area to the right of the front door is a buffalo blue grama grass mix. The lawn to the left of the walk segues into a newly-planted sedge lawn as it reaches the shade of an oak. (You’ll be able to see what a mature sedge lawn looks like at Pam Penick’s “Oh, Deer!” garden on the tour.) Gregory doesn’t have a sprinkler system and isn’t a a fan of watering, so this lawn area is only watered when getting plants established and in times of extreme drought.

You can see the sedge area in the upper right corner:

I love how well the hefty blocks of native limestone enhance the Central Texas plant palette and add an element of formality.

I also really like the detail of these two squares of limestone bracketing the front walk. They mark the threshold between formal and informal, public and private, and make a great place to sit while chatting. And if I were a cat, I imagine this would be a primo spot for sunbathing and/or looking down upon lesser mortals.

Just outside the front wall, the mood is more casual. Doesn’t this vignette remind you of the rope swings of childhood? I also enjoy the texture of the weathered adirondack against the limestone wall.

More textures:

Taking a turn around to the gate into the private back garden, here we find Gracie, World’s Sweetest Dog™, keeping an eye on the world through the doggie-sized porthole in the back fence.
Gracie, World's Sweetest Dog™

Look at that face!

Through the gate, here’s a long shot across the back garden:

The garden is built around a sunny circular zoysia lawn. The clean lines of the lawn help temper the tumble of tough plantings around it. I asked Gregory about his plant philosophy, and he described it as “the most amount of flowers with the least amount of effort, hence my love of roses and wildflowers.” There are lots of tough flowers and trees tucked into this suburban yard, among them plumbago, inland sea oats, mistflower, loquat, coppery canyon daisy, and heartleaf skullcap. There are rectangular vegetable and herb beds in the sunny spots, and a cheery lawn gnome on an elevated dish planter watches over it all.
gnome alone

Earlier, I had been amused to discover another tiny gnome keeping an eye on the front lawn from a front door flowerpot:

Gregory’s garden is a Certified Wildlife Habitat. So there’s water for the birds…

…and for the dog!

This shady corner used to be the home of a trampoline. Now the garden’s central circular seating area is echoed by a shady firepit setup.


A view next to the playhouse looking back across the garden. Every bit of space in the back garden has a purpose.

Gregory’s garden is a great illustration of how to design for low water in Central Texas when you don’t have a drip or sprinkler system. He picks tough plants to start with, and then puts the ones that need more water closer to the house and the hose.

My favorite thing about Gregory’s garden is how it perfectly encapsulates design elements that I think make for great gardens for people who don’t want to spend all their time doing maintenance: enough formality to balance a naturalistic or exuberant planting style, and a thoughtfully-designed, properly-scaled hardscape constructed well out of durable materials.  As long as the designated ‘negative spaces’ stay neat and the hardscape is structurally sound, that strong design backbone will balance out a jungle or a less-than-perfect growing season and will keep the garden looking good year-round. And that means more time to actually enjoy the view through the window or from the hammock (or from the top of a sun-warmed limestone pedestal, working on your cat impression).

This concludes our tour! I leave you with Gracie’s smiling face in feathergrass camouflage.
Gracie, World's Sweetest Dog™

You can read more about Gregory’s garden here or see more pictures on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour website.

The Inside Austin Gardens Tour is October 17th from 9 AM to 4 PM. Tickets are $20 for all 7 gardens or $5 per garden. You can also buy your ticket to all of the gardens for $19 here. More information can be found on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour website.

See you on tour day!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Inside Austin Gardens Tour: the AgriLife Extension Demonstration Garden

The only public garden on the tour, the AgriLife Extension Demonstration Garden was created and is maintained by the Master Gardeners. It’s a space for experimentation and for the demonstration of various horticultural techniques. On display are several kinds of compost systems, vegetable beds featuring seasonal herb and vegetable varieties, squares of different turf types recommended for Central Texas, tough adapted roses, and plenty of flowers to appeal to butterflies, bees and other pollinators, as well as the occasional human.

Here’s a shot looking east from the vegetable garden. The shade structure on the left is still in the construction phase and will be part of a rainwater collection system.
demo garden wide shot

Here you can see the turf and vegetable beds. It’s quite a contrast with the starkly industrial neighborhood surrounding the garden!
demo garden veggie garden

On a rustic trellis along the sidewalk, rose ‘Red Cascade’ lived up to its name.
rose 'Red Cascade'

A sea of gomphrena against a backdrop of burgundy amaranth:

Shrimp plant, a great tough plant for shade, demonstrates how it got its common name:
shrimp plant

The exotic flowers of Passionflower cover a chain link fence between a sidewalk and parking area. In my experience, it tends to spread like crazy, so this is the perfect spot to keep it in bounds! This is the host plant for the gulf fritillary butterfly.

Also a hit with butterflies is Mexican Flame Vine.
mexican flame vine

Backlit by the late afternoon sun, it really did look like it was alight!
mexcian flame vine backlit

It was an ideal plant for butterfly camouflage. Perfect timing for the monarch migration!
butterfly camouflage

Also popular with the butterflies was native Gregg’s Mistflower.
butterfly on Gregg's Mistflower

Waterwise annual gomphrena was popular with skipperling moths:
moth on gomphrena

Down at the curb, tough native four-nerve daisies and a softleaf yucca add evergreen interest. You can see the Mexican Flame Vine in the background.
four nerve daisies and yucca

While the Demonstration Garden is free and open to the public, there will be Master Gardeners on hand to answer questions during the tour. Read more about the Demo Garden here and check out a photo gallery here.

The Inside Austin Gardens Tour is October 17th from 9 AM to 4 PM. Tickets are $20 for all 7 gardens or $5 per garden. You can also buy your ticket to all of the gardens for $19 here. More information can be found on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour website.

See you on tour day!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Inside Austin Gardens Tour: the lush, shade-filled garden of Sue Nazar

Confession time: this is the second time I’ve seen Master Gardener and garden designer Sue Nazar’s lush and shady garden on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour. I previously blogged about it here. It’s been really interesting to see what’s changed in the almost five years since she last opened her garden to the public (if you want to see even more of how Sue’s garden has evolved, check out this classic (pre-HD!) episode of Central Texas Gardener). A few of the changes have been ongoing– Sue has been slowly replacing her traditional Asian jasmine groundcover with native sedges, yuccas, and other well-adapted shade plants. A few of the changes were more abrupt, such as the loss of a few large trees during the storms this past May, which transformed Sue’s lushly planted shade allee into a much sunnier area.

Here’s a view from the driveway. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but this is a fairly steep slope. This whole area is open to deer, so the plants have been chosen with that in mind. What makes this planting so successful is the high levels of contrast between the plants– soft, shaggy sedge paired with the wide strappy leaves of the yucca, the fuzzy arching arms of foxtail fern grounded by heavy blue pots and glazed ceramic spheres.
Sue Nazar - shade and deer

One of the few sunny spots borders the curb, so Sue has planted up her hellstrip with sun-loving plants. Here a yellow-flowering verbascum arches over a carpet of four nerve and blackfoot daisies:
cowboy TP

Here’s a wider shot of the curbside garden. Potted agaves add drama and height to the back of the border.
wide shot curb

At the entrance to the driveway, low voltage lighting doubles as garden art:
curb appeal

I spy…

Sue has a great eye for container plantings and likes to move containers around to fill visual holes in her beds and to add seasonal interest. The pots themselves add color too, as shade plants for this climate tend to have a very limited color palette. This blue pot of dianella flax lily and foxtail fern is a great combo for a shady spot:
potted flax lily and foxtail fern

I really wish I’d taken more pictures during my visit, as I am not doing this garden justice. Please check out this gallery and Sue’s profile on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour website for a more comprehensive tour of Sue’s excellent garden!

The Inside Austin Gardens Tour is October 17th from 9 AM to 4 PM. Tickets are $20 for all 7 gardens or $5 per garden. You can also buy your ticket to all of the gardens for $19 here. More information can be found on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour website.

See you on tour day!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Inside Austin Gardens Tour: the contemporary cottage garden of Martha King

Master Gardener Martha King’s garden is a surprising mix of traditional cottage style with Asian influences, which nicely compliments the contemporary updates to her Crestview home. As you step through the shaded arbor and minimalist gate into the garden, the front porch nicely encapsulates the overall aesthetic (and I LOVE the color palette!) and offers a comfy spot to sit and read or have a refreshing beverage (bottle cap removers are stealthily-placed on the underside of the chair arms). This is the kind of welcoming garden where it feels like neighbors wander by and then stop to chat.

Martha King - front porch

Speaking of le chat, cats and front porches go well together, and this cat reminded me of my friend Robin, who loves cat garden art:

Martha King - porch cat

I also really love the combination of brick and limestone pavers that lead from the sidewalk to the front door. The sharp-edged limestone feels contemporary, but the brick kicks it back a notch to a softer, more casual style.

Martha King - paving

A striped aloe in a pot adds subtle color to the porch arrangement:
striped aloe

Some front porch art points the way to the rest of the garden:
Martha King - front porch art

The double lot has lots of mature trees and shade, but the sunny spots are filled with vegetables or flowers. Do you see the bee heading for the flowering basil?

Martha King - flowering basil with bee

Fungus on a stump in the veggie garden reminds me that I forgot to ask Martha whether she’s tried to inoculate stumps with edible mushrooms as I’ve read about permaculture practicioners doing.
stump fungus

There are birdbaths and fountains everywhere. Martha’s garden is a Certified Wildlife Habitat.
Martha King - fountain




















I was amused by the contrast of Zen-influenced garden art with pieces of classic Americana:
buddha fountain
Martha King - Sinclair fence

Martha King - Buddha statue

Martha King - massive banana

Martha has a few microclimates in her garden and uses them to her advantage to grow borderline hardy fruit trees. The giant banana in the picture above is by far the biggest I’ve seen in Austin. To the right are citrus trees in the ground. Martha also grows arbequina and manzanilla olives (olives require a pollinator) and recently harvested an impressive amount.
Martha King - olives

And what of flowers? The biggest show was in the full sun of the hellstrip, which is also planted up:

orange cosmos

grasses and cactus

cosmos and mistflower

This concludes our tour! You can read more about Martha’s garden here and see more pictures here. The Austin-American Statesman also recently published an article about Martha’s garden as a wildlife habitat.

The Inside Austin Gardens Tour is October 17th from 9 AM to 4 PM. Tickets are $20 for all 7 gardens or $5 per garden. You can also buy your ticket to all of the gardens for $19 here. More information can be found on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour website.

See you on tour day!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Inside Austin Gardens Tour: Flashy Natives, the garden of Lois Pesz

Now that the Death Star has (finally!) begun its seasonal retreat, it’s time for us gardeners to venture forth, squinting, from our air-conditioned houses and actually enjoy spending time in our gardens again. And as we survey the figuratively charred state of our gardens and await Austin’s “second spring,” it’s the perfect time for a garden tour to grant us some new inspiration and enthusiasm. Fitting that bill nicely, this year’s Inside Austin Gardens Tour is on Saturday, October 17th. Organized by the Travis County Master Gardeners with the theme “For Gardeners, By Gardeners,” it features 6 private gardens and one public garden. The garden bloggers were treated to a preview tour this past Thursday so we could give you the scoop.

First up is the south Austin garden of Lois Pesz, which wows with lush and colorful plantings starting right at the curb.

Lois Pesz - front garden

Lois favors a mixture of native plants and well-adapted ornamentals with dramatic foliage, most notably evergreen yucca, the dramatically-arching deep purple-hued “Princess Caroline” fountain grass, purple-burgundy spikes of dykia, and the glossy black-purple of ornamental peppers. The repetition of flower and foliage hues and forms unifies the front garden design.

purple dykia

kalanchoe picks up the purple of variegated tradescantia

The front lawn is a gently curving wide path that creates a quiet negative space that tames the exuberant plantings. The lawn is edged with nearly invisible root barrier edging. Round rocks are set inside that border as the visible edging, creating clean lines for the lawn and greatly reducing maintenance.

lawnCertain color and form combinations echo each other throughout the front garden. Here the purple ornamental pepper and blue-green spikes of softleaf yucca echo the shape  and color of the dramatic Princess Caroline pennisetum purpureum behind it.
softeleaf yucca echoes the foliage of Princess Caroline

This arrangement is echoed in a shady spot with spiky-fountain shape of dianella flax lily contrasting with the dramatic purple foliage of Persian Shield.
flax lily and Persian Shield

And here in another part-sun nook, the spiky-purple theme continues with yucca, ornamental pepper, and Mystic Spires salvia:
purple and spikes

Moving to the backyard, you’re greeted with the unexpectedly dramatic foliage of giant okra.


The okra provides privacy screen for one side of the back deck, which is arranged into conversation areas with comfortable furniture.
patio seating

A collection of potted plants brings the garden right up to the house. This pot features an unusual combo of dianella flax lily and firecracker fern.
flax lily and firecracker fern

And who did I spy keeping a sharp eye on us bloggers? Meet Bernie, one of the garden cats.
Bernie the cat

Many thanks to Lois for opening her garden for us and for answering our many questions!
the gardener herself

You can see more pictures and read more about Lois’s garden on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour website.

The Inside Austin Gardens Tour is October 17th from 9 AM to 4 PM. Tickets are $20 for all 7 gardens or $5 per garden. You can also buy your ticket to all of the gardens for $19 here. More information can be found on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour website.

See you on tour day!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

wide-shot meme: October 2015

wide shot october 2015

Image | Posted on by | Tagged | 1 Comment

Morning Mockingbirds

Swapping out the old fountain for a taller one with a shallow basin and more gentle flow has brought all the birds to the yard. I really miss the sound of the old fountain, but this is a tradeoff I’m willing to make.


ETA: I’m entering this picture in the Gardening Gone Wild Picture This Photo Contest.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments