Diana C. Kirby

About Diana C. Kirby

Diana Kirby is a lifelong gardener and longtime Austinite, who loves the Central Texas climate for the almost year-round opportunities it offers for active gardening and seasonal splendor. Known as an impassioned and successful gardener, Diana began by helping friends design and implement their landscapes. Soon, she was contracted as a professional designer by a popular local landscaping installation firm, where she designed landscapes for residential and commercial clients for several years. In 2007, her new passion blossomed with the launch of her own firm, Diana’s Designs. ... Diana is a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, the Garden Writers Association of America, and she writes a monthly gardening column for the Austin American-Statesman. Diana teaches the Landscape Design classes for several county Texas Agrilife Extension Service Master Gardener certification programs and speaks about gardening and design for garden centers and other groups. Learn more about presentation topics, availability and speaking fees.

Chanticleer’s Ruin Garden filled with magic and mystery…

I expected that Chanticleer would be the highlight of the recent garden trip I took with Pam Penick of Digging. I’d heard of the amazing gardens and had done a little research, but I was in awe as each and every element of the garden unfolded before me. On its website, Chanticleer claims to have been called “the most romantic, imaginative and exciting public garden in America.” They aren’t kidding. It towers above all the other public gardens that I’ve visited — not having missed a fling in 8 years — I’ve toured a few!

The Chanticleer estate was originally built in the early 20th Century by Adolph and Christine Rosengarten as a country retreat. It later became their permanent home and they bought additional neighboring land to give homes to their two children as wedding presents. One of those homes now serves as the entrance and offices and the other is the site of the estate’s Ruin Garden. In 1990, Adolph, Jr. left the entire property as a public garden and museum under the guidance of The Chanticleer Foundation. Today, the garden employs 20 full-time staff, among them 14 gardeners and groundskeepers.

That said, I’ll bring you through what I thought was the most innovative part of the garden — the Ruin Garden — for my first Chanticleer post.

Chanticleer’s Ruin Garden was built on the site of the original Minder house, which was given to Adolph Rosengarten, Jr. as a wedding gift. Composed of three ‘rooms’ – the Great Hall, the Library and the Pool Room, it evokes an air of crumbling history with a macabre undercurrent. The ruin isn’t really a ruin at all, but cleverly created hardscape backdrops into which succulents and shade plants are creatively tucked. Perched on top of a hill, it’s barely visible until you come right up on it.

The Library is scattered with displays of slate books.

Stone acorns appear to be entombed in the pages of an open stone book.

Dominated by a 24-foot reflecting pool shaped like a sarcophagus, the Great Hall is mesmerizing.

Every element in the room is reflected in the vast, dark pool.

Succulents fill the mantle and provide little pops of color in the water’s mirrored image.

The stillness of the water is enticing. I didn’t trail my fingers in the fountain, but enjoyed watching these two little girls prepare to test the waters.

The giant black water feature rests on a stone mosaic carpet.

Through the next stone doorway lies the ‘Pool Room.’

Here, polished marble faces rise up from the black depths to make themselves known to visitors. Their garish, mottled faces are disturbing, to say the least.

Beaten down by the water sheers, the faces are trapped forever in the pool.

I’m not sure if the girls were intrigued or frightened, but they did approach with some caution. The prospect of touching the cool water on a hot day won out over trepidation.

Next to the pool, a column lined with succulents seems sweet by comparison.

Delicate coral-colored succulents stand out along the post against the green and gray rooms of the Ruin Garden.

Stone acorns seem to be sprouting in a bed inside the Ruin Garden.

The plants and vines intricately woven throughout the walls of the Ruin Garden appear to have been there for centuries, however, this garden was created and opened to the public in 2000.

As we left the garden, a stone face peeked out from a bed of sedge, appearing to watch us leave.

Four acres of gorgeous gardens under glass at the Longwood Gardens Conservatory

Last week, my friend Pam, who blogs at Digging, and I embarked on a garden adventure unrivaled in my garden travels. Nestled in the Brandywine Valley region of Pennsylvania, we toured three public gardens, Winterthur, Longwood and Chanticleer.

I took thousands of pictures (in part because the hot summer sun kept me adjusting my light settings). I’m sure I collected enough photos to blog about for several months!

As a lover and collector of tropical and exotic plants, the Longwood Conservatory is high on my list of the gardens within the gardens of our trip. It includes 20 different gardens (yes, all inside this giant conservatory), and more than 5,500 types of plants. It was spectacular. While it included all the typical plants you’d find in most conservatories, there was so much more — an amazing array of plant combinations, beautiful design, and attention to detail at every step. I can’t even fit all of it into one post, but I’ve decided to just jump in and cover part of it as my first post of the trip.

The Conservatory was built in 1919 by Pierre S. du Pont, and was designed to be an indoor eden. The collection of conservatory buildings covers 4.5 acres. (The entire garden covers 1,077 acres.) Yes, 4.5 INSIDE acres of stunning gardens, including the Fern Floor and Alcoves, seen here, the Patio of Oranges, Waterlily Display, Silver Garden, Orchid House, Mediterranean Garden, Bonsai Display, Palm Garden, Desert House, Cascade Garden, Banana House, Camellia House, Green Wall, Indoor Children’s Garden (so amazing that this will get its own post soon!), Rose House, Tropical Terrace, East Fruit House, Garden Path, Peirce-du Pont House and the Exhibition Hall.

The grand entrance, pictured above, provides a preview of this massive sest of structures. Beautiful and unusual bromeliads are given a place of honor in this section of the garden.

Many of the water features were surrounded by bromeliads, as well.

I have a number of bromeliads in my house and in the cabana in pots, but the volume and diversity of these was astounding. Clearly I have a way to go in the collecting department!

And then there were the ferns. I was taken by the Mexican Tree Ferns, delicate and ephemeral, yet strong and sculptural, all at the same time.

And then there were these stunning Staghorn-like ferns.

Of course, no prehistoric journey would be the same without cycads.

This male cycad was sporting a new cone.

I love this grey species. It’s a shame that the light prevents me from reading the tag that I photographed — I’d like to find out if I can grow this one in my Zone 8b-sometimes 9 garden.

This gigantic Sago palm (though not a palm at all) dwarfs the sizeable Sansevieria below it.

I believe that these elephant ears are Colocasia amazonica – which means they are sure living up to their name here under the black bamboo.

I can’t name this one, but I love the black stems which mirror the black bamboo as well.

Great color combinations under this bamboo.

And, who can resist the appeal of this black bamboo? It’s so striking and exotic.

With 4.5 acres of conservatory gardens to cover, this will have to be it for your first peek. Thousands more photos and lots of blog posts to come, about the conservatory and Longwood’s other 1,000+ acres of outside gardens!

Beautiful exotic blooms welcome me home…

Back from a magical 6-day garden trip that covered Winterthur, Longwood, and Chanticleer gardens, visions of blooms danced in my head last night.

It’s always a little hard to come back to your own garden after seeing the grandeur of such vast and amazing gardens. Lucikly, I was greeted with stunning blooms on my Peruvian cereus this morning. Cereus repandus (formerly Cereus peruvianus) is a thorny cactus with a sculptural shape that blooms in spring-summer.

It’s native to the rocky outcroppings and savannas of South America. In the wild, it can grow up to 30 feet tall, but is well contained in pots (thank goodness).

I had two blooms last year, and only one the year before that after I bought it. Its showy blooms are normally followed by red fruit much like dragon fruit, though more round. We ate dragon fruit every day when we were in Thailand 3 years ago.

Sadly, I haven’t had any fruit develop after the flowers yet. Last year, we had heavy rains during the bloom and they simply fell off when they were done. There is no rain in the forecast for this week, if we do get some soon, you can be sure I will be bringing it under cover. I’m eager to try the fruit.

It goes into the greenhouse for the winter, because it’s only hardy in zones 9-11. This year, it would have been fine outside, since I never had a freeze, but I’m not taking any chances!

I shot these photos early this morning, just as the sun was beginning to shine and the blooms were still at their peak.

I’ll have to enjoy my photos for the rest of the day, however, as the blooms have already closed up and are starting to shrivel. They are one-night bloomers. I’m so glad I was home to see them – if we’d come back one day later, I would have missed these 3 beautiful blooms. Now I have two more to look forward to.

It’s great to be back home in my garden.

Succulent planter filled with fun foliage…

When we put gutters on the cabana, I took down my rain chain and moved the large, smooth stone-filled terra cotta basin sitting at the bottom of it.

I rehung the rain chain (for decor only) from a tree, since we had no other place for it to channel rain. The basin sat in the woods, forgotten, for quite some time.

This weekend I decided to put it to good use, turning it into a lovely succulent planter. I collected several different kinds of succulents to provide interesting texture, form and color. I filled the basin with lots of large rocks at the bottom, then used decomposed granite mixed with soil for the fill and placed another layer of DG for the top.

Then came the dilemma – where to place it? I couldn’t really put it out front in an existing bed – the deer would eat it there. I didn’t have an appropriate sunny space in the back where I would get to see it.

So I decided I wouldn’t put it on the ground inside of a bed, I’d raise it up on a stand so it wouldn’t get lost.

After a trip to At Home (what used to be Garden Ridge – I think I’m doomed to call it Garden Ridge forever! Or at least “what used to be Garden Ridge!”), I found a stable enough plant table of a suitable height.

I’ve placed it by the front door. The deer DO come up to the door on rare occasions – I know I am taking a risk, but I like it here. And I can see it, especially now that we have created a kitchen and breakfast room in the entryway while our kitchen and family room are being remodeled.

Tuscan transformation…

It’s really quite an honor when a former landscaping client calls us back to design again at a new home. Several clients have entrusted us with repeat projects, including our current installation.

Located on a large ranch in the Hill Country, this Tuscan farmhouse begged for a fresh landscape to match the grandeur of this beautiful home.

I was first struck by the way the existing split rail fence seemed to detract from the view of the home. The entrance to the front door came in from a tight, side angle, the existing path gray and worn limestone. As I walked the front of the property, inside and outside the fence, the existing beds appeared tiny and out of scale. I realized that the front of the home, with it’s fairytale front door, roofline and window detail was lost to visitors coming up the walk from the side so close to the house.


As I explored further back, two large oaks caught my eye and I envisioned a new entrance, winding through the oaks and arriving at the front door straight on, giving guests an opportunity to experience the stateliness of the home.

With the cornerstone of the design determined, the rest of the plan fell into place.

We moved the new fence back a full 40 feet from the house, tore up the existing path and front stoop and build a mortared Oklahoma flagstone path that meandered from the driveway to the entrance. New, deeper beds enveloped the front of the home on both sides, anchored by a series of ‘tiny tower’ cypress trees and traditional xeric, Mediterranean-style native and adapted plants.

You can see where the old stone path came out and the new, albeit muddy, flagstone path meandering through the trees.

Having redesigned a landscape with these clients before, I knew their taste well, so choosing plants they would love was easy. We did leave the existing mature Crape Myrtle in the new landscape. The beds include a mix of rich red Salvia Greggii and Texas Betonies along with Zexmenia, Jerusalem sage, dwarf Greek Myrtles, ‘sandankwa’ Viburnum, Foxtail ferns, Dianella, Catmint, ‘new gold’ and variegated gold Lantana, ‘soft caress’ Mahonia, yellow shrimp plant and an existing Sago palm. The blend of texture and form gives the design a lush feel with many traditional Texas plants.

The project is ongoing – we’ve moved onto the back of the property now, building stone beds around the pool and creating a rose garden. More photos to come as we progress, though it may take a while with rain forecast for the next 7 days.

The scent of a garden…

I was walking up to our front door this morning when I was literally stopped in my tracks by a lovely, perfume-like scent. I looked all around me, examining the plants on both sides of the path. Hmmmm…Mexican oregano, nope – that has a sharp, herbal scent, and usually only when touched. Not the iris, not the ‘purple pastel’ salvia, the purple skullcap, the Zexmenia, or the black scallop ajuga. What was it?

So, then I expanded my search and saw the Magnolia ‘little gem’ magnolia far out in the middle of the yard. Sure enough, a large white bloom stared back at me.

And then I spied another, and another. I stood there for a while and absorbed the luscious scent.

Unlike many of the blooms in my garden, which are small and delicate, the magnolia bloom is bold and beautiful, it’s creamy white petals like intricate porcelain saucers.

Since there are many of them on the tree, I plan to bring one bloom inside to float in a glass bowl and infuse the house with its heady perfume. Nature’s potourri, there’s nothing better.