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.


Pam/Digging said...

Great post and observations, Lori. You're right, this garden is very secluded feeling although it's in a busy part of town. I love the way inland sea oats were used along the drive, and all the personal decorating touches, like the lights and the stacked stones, were fun.

I hadn't thought about the maintenance of the fountain, but you're right---I bet it's a pain in the butt to mow around.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the pics, Lori. Between you and Pam, I feel like I was there. It is interesting how they mixed foxtail fern in with all the natives. And I love the idea of having the entire place behind a privacy fence, front yard and driveway included. I look forward to more!

Lori said...

Pam - Ever since visiting Lee's garden, I've wanted to plant inland sea oats. I just can't find a spot where their runners won't drive me nuts. This patch along the sidewalk seems to be an ideal situation for them.

And speaking of the personal decorating touches, did you notice the stainless steel strainer that was propped on top of a round landscape light? That made me laugh.

Getgrounded - Seriously, giving you the virtual tour is the only thing motivating me to post these pictures. I'm lazy. I loved the sliding fence, and if I could think of any way to adapt it to my front yard without angering the neighbors, I'd do it in a split-second. Instead I'm going to content myself with Ye Olde Flower Moat. ;)

ConsciousGardener said...

Wonderful post and photos, looks like you guys had a wonderful time!

Annie in Austin said...

Since you worked so hard on this fascinating post, the least I can do is log on and make a comment. I love to see this innovative urban gardens, although like you, wonder about the maintenance... doesn't the grass in the pointed front bed also have to be mowed - and the mower kept from falling over the edge?

We meet people at Home Slice once in awhile, Lori, but so far haven't tried to walk off the calories by strolling the neighborhood ;-]

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Lancashire rose said...

I like the photos you took of this garden. The street planting was perfect for Austin. Must try to do more with mine! It disappoints me when the homeowner seems to have no interest in their own garden. The lady of the house had no clue about the Mexican flame vine on the back fence. I hope they enjoy sitting outside.

Pam/Digging said...

I have to comment again. Jenny, I didn't meet the lady of the house, but I met the man, and he was very engaged in the garden and its design. The designer, whom he introduced me to, said he was her partner in the design, and I believe it. He knew all about the garden and explained the inspiration for various parts of it.

Lori, in my experience, inland sea oats don't run. They just seed out prolifically. If you can tuck them into their own planting area, it's easy to pluck or Round-up the seedlings that emerge in the spring. It's a very worthy mass-planting plant.

Lori said...

Conscious Gardener - It was a fun tour, and I'm so glad that we went early before the heat really kicked in. Did you get a chance to go?

Annie in Austin - Good god, I never even thought about the logistics of mowing the tip of the V. I imagine that it involves some feat of lawnmower levitation that defies the laws of physics.

Lancashire rose - I'd sit outside constantly if I lived in this garden, and it seemed like with the exception of lawn-related activities, there wasn't so much maintenance that I'd be motivated to run around weeding and deadheading constantly. I also liked how the back area seemed to lend itself to informal gatherings. It reminded me a bit of Lucinda Hutson's backyard, actually. Did you get a chance to visit on the Spring Fling tour last year?

Pam - I suspect that I'm confusing the habits of inland sea oats with some blue dune grass I planted a few years back that tried its best to run randomly in all directions before I yanked it out. It just doesn't look like a clumping grass, you know?

Matt said...

Hi, I am glad you and Pam liked our garden. We really love it and enjoyed sharing it. I thought I let people know how we deal with our fountain/lawn. We rinse the filter when needed (twice a week on average). Every two or three weeks I get one of my boys and armed with clippers we trim the grass–kind of zen style. It takes all of 30 minutes. I don't own a weed wacker and gave our push mower to a friend. Please drop in if after your next visit to homeslice. It is one of our favs as well.

Diana said...

Lori - it was a fun garden, wasn't it? They really squeezed a lot of interesting plants into that small area -- without it seeming too overcrowded. I'm like you - love the look of those inland sea oats, but don't want them taking over ... anywhere. So I will just admire them from afar -- on tours and on your great post.

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