Thursday, May 21, 2009

overachieving agave

I've long-admired the dramatic placement of this agave in front of a house in my neighborhood.  Sometime this winter, it sent out a bloom stalk that seems to be trying its best to imitate the vine in Jack & the Beanstalk.  It's now over two stories tall.

When those flowers open, it's gonna be legendary.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

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.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gardens on Tour 2009: Academy Dr.

On Saturday morning, I woke up at an ungodly early hour to go to the Wildflower Center-sponsored Gardens on Tour. Our touring group consisted of Diana from Sharing Nature's Garden (who should be sainted for offering to drive), Pam from Digging, and me and my friend Nancy, who's in town from even dryer Arizona for the week.

Our first stop was in a neighborhood within walking distance of one of my favorite restaurants in Austin, Home Slice.  A few times a year, I'll drag a friend to Home Slice for an impromptu hipsterfication tour, which consists of first eating a pizza and then attempting to walk it off by exploring the neighborhoods on the east side of South Congress, which are a nice mix of old cozy bungalows, many of which are being fixed up, added on to, and landscaped with funky xeric plants as the property values skyrocket and ownership changes hands. There are also quite a few teardowns that are being replaced with more modern-looking houses that actually blend pretty well with the fixed-up bungalows.  This property on Academy Drive was a particularly nice example of fixing up an old property and putting a modern spin on it.

Here's the requisite shot of the area next to the road with the giant agave. The wall behind it has a sliding panel on tracks that can be used to close the driveway and add privacy, which I thought was a cool concept, and the plantings in front keep the facade inviting.

Here's the view from just inside the wall on the driveway. The parking area is off to the left, unpictured, with a shade sail suspended over it, so well-integrated into the landscape that I didn't even notice it at first. I also liked how the flowers draping over the retaining wall at the left center of the picture match the color of the decorative window screens. I have no idea where to find screens like this, but I am tempted. They add a lot of personality to the place and I think there'd be more incentive to play with color when you have something you can swap out at whim.

To the left of the last photo, the materials of the retaining wall change. I like how organic the rocks and rusted metal are, within the framework of a sharp, minimalist design.

The property was landscaped to be lush but low-maintenance, and the gravel mulch around the house and flowerbeds was broken up with a series of vignettes. Here we have a succulent combination with some fun details on the deck extension at the front of the house.

A stone stack under some bushes.  I love the shades of blue in the smaller stones:

A really lovely focal point. I like how that light panel doubles as a fun nightlight.

Close-up of the various plants. I've got to say that foxtail fern is really growing on me after seeing it used so effectively in this garden.  I'd previously thought of it only as a container plant, which is how I always saw it in Wisconsin.

A hedge of inland sea oats runs along the fence beside the sidewalk from front to back. It's going to look amazing in the fall when the arching seedheads mature, but right now it's still lovely, lush, and green.

How could I post about this place without showing a close-up of the fountain? It's up in the raised "V" area near the front porch.  Here it is:

Since I spent the entire evening sweating my butt off doing yard work (and I've gotta admit that I spent quite a bit of that time pondering Lee's thoughts on the subject), I wonder just how much of a pain this fountain is to mow around.  Don't get me wrong, I love the natural vs. minimalist style and how it's so well-integrated with the lawn, but I wonder if they need to use a hand skimmer to get grass clippings out of the water before they clog the fountain pump or wield pruners to keep a straight edge along the rectangular sections.  I know that if this were my property, it would be one of those nit-picky things that would keep me from sitting still on the front porch for longer than a minute at a time.

In retrospect, the strongest impression I have of this garden if of quietness and privacy.  The South Congress area is a lively part of town, but walking into this garden, you completely forget about the cafes and shopping and people-watching scene just a few blocks away.  And thanks to both the walls around the garden and the plantings and the layout of the house and office in the back, you don't even notice the neighbors.  It's very cozy and calming, two things that can be in short supply living so close together in the city.

FYI, Pam's got a post on this garden with even more pictures and plant IDs here.